Autism (takiwātanga)

Autism is also known as autism spectrum and ASD

Key points about autism

  • Autism (takiwātanga) is a difference in development that affects communication, social skills and behaviour.
  • Children with autism can have a wide range of challenges and strengths, and these can vary with age and over time in an individual.
  • If your child does have autism, there are services available to support your child, you and your whānau.
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Video: Amazing things happen!

Watch an animated film (5 minutes 30 seconds) providing an introduction to the autism spectrum. It was created as part of the UK Amazing Things Project. The video is available in a range of languages at link)(external link). This video may take a few moments to load.

(Amazing Things Project, UK, 2017)

Takiwātanga means in his, her or my own time and space. It comes from a Māori phrase for autism – “tōku/tōna anō takiwā”.

There is no single way of describing autism that everyone agrees on. People may refer to autism, autism spectrum, the spectrum and ASD. People with autism often prefer to identify as autistic, an autistic person, a person with autism or as an autistic individual. In the health system, it's often called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism is a difference in development that affects:

  • communication (verbal and nonverbal)
  • social skills
  • behaviour.

Communication and social skills develop in children at different rates. Communication involves many different skills. Children learn to understand what people say to them; speak clearly and use words and sentences to talk and get their message across; understand and use gestures, signs and body language; look, listen and take turns in a conversation. Read more about how children learn to communicate.(external link)(external link)

"It is common for me and other people with autism to be unable to say the words to describe what is bothering us. It's also hard for us to figure out that other people don't experience the world the same way we do".

Children with autism often have differences in the way they behave. They can sometimes enjoy a narrow range of interests which they like to repeat and they may also like to play with toys differently than other children. Children with autism can sometimes make unusual movements with their body. They may have more difficulty with change than other children.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of autism.(external link)(external link) 

Children with autism interpret the world differently

Children with autism interpret the world and what is happening around them differently than other children.

Autism is different for every child who has it

When people talk about autism spectrum, they are referring to the wide range of differences in children with autism. These differences can vary with age and can also vary over time in a child.

Rather than thinking about your child with autism as sitting somewhere on a line from ‘not autistic’ to ‘very autistic’, imagine each of their skills in separately. Your tamariki will have strengths in some areas and challenges in others. See a comic strip explaining these ideas.(external link)(external link) 

Overseas figures vary from about 1 in 59 to 1 in 100. There is not much information about how common autism is in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Autism is more common in boys than girls. But this may be partly because not all girls with autism have been diagnosed.

It might seem like there are more children with autism now than in the past. This is probably because of better recognition than in the past. It could also be because of changes in autism diagnosis.

Autism occurs in children and adults – it is usually diagnosed in childhood. Sometimes a diagnosis is not made until the teenage years or adulthood when social demands exceed a person's abilities.

We don't know exactly what causes autism but it is likely to be a combination of factors. Children with autism are more likely to have a similarly affected family member. This suggests genetic factors play a part.

Some children will have a rare medical condition that may be associated with autism.

Extensive research shows that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does not cause autism.

An animated film (3 minutes 0 seconds) for primary school children. It aims to create more awareness of the autism spectrum in primary school children. This may be useful for classmates - to set the tone for an inclusive school environment.

(Marvellous Max Project, Australia, 2015)

Video: Amazing kids

In this animated film (5 minutes 13 seconds), you can listen to children from different backgrounds share their unique experiences of the autistism spectrum in their own words. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Amazing Things Project, UK, 2020)

Video: We are autistic

In this video, five people tell their own accounts of what it is like living as an autistic person. This video may take a few moments to load.

(NHS, UK, 2021)

Video: Autism: Life in Lockdown

Adrian tells us how he has adjusted to life during a pandemic as an autistic person. This video may take a few moments to load.

(NHS, UK, 2020)

Video: Lucy's story

Watch Lucy's story about her experiences with living with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Autism New Zealand, NZ, 2020)

Watch more videos about children's voices about their experience of the autism spectrum at Kids Health NZ(external link)(external link) and at NHS, UK(external link)(external link)

Autism spectrum disorder information(external link)(external link) Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People
Pasifika Autism Support Group(external link)(external link)  NZ
Altogether Autism(external link)(external link) NZ
Kanorau Takiwātanga Consultants – Māori Autism Support NZ(external link)
ASD information(external link)(external link) Ministry of Education, NZ
ASD information(external link)(external link) Raising Children Network, The Australian Parenting Network, Australia
Visual strategies for ASD(external link)(external link) Use Visual Strategies
National Autistic Society(external link)(external link) UK
Online safety guide for people with autism spectrum disorders(external link)(external link)
Understanding Autism(external link)(external link) Future Learn. Online course and fee applies. You don’t need any prior experience or qualifications to do this course but it might be of interest to practitioners in the field of autism, healthcare workers, autistic people, and parents or carers.


Note: Some resource below are from overseas so some details may be different in New Zealand, eg, phone 111 for emergencies or, if it’s not an emergency, freephone Healthline 0800 611 116.


Autism apps


New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline (2nd ed.)(external link)(external link) Ministries of Health and Education, NZ, 2016


The quote from people with autism is reproduced from the New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline (2nd ed.)(external link)(external link), as allowed by the Guideline's copyright policy. The quotes are copyright New Zealand Ministries of Health and Education.


what does asd look like

What does ASD look like?

NZ Guidelines Group and NZ Ministries of Health and Education NZ, 2010

how is asd diagnosed

How is ASD diagnosed?(external link)

New Zealand Guidelines Group, 2010

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Credits: Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Healthify He Puna Waiora as part of a National Health Content Hub Collaborative.

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