Unheard Voices: A Māori Perspective on Autism

Dorothy Taare-Smith

9:30 AM (EDT) October 13, 2024

Dorothy Taare-Smith

Dorothy Taare-Smith is a dedicated advocate for disability inclusion based in Gisborne, New Zealand. A proud Māori woman affiliated with Ngāti Porou, the tribal group on the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand, Dorothy has extensive experience supporting whānau Māori (Māori families) in high Māori populated areas in her community, particularly those dealing with an autism diagnosis. 

Dorothy has a background in special education and disability advocacy and is the founder and director of Taonga Takiwātanga Charitable Trust. Dorothy holds a Master’s in Specialist Teaching (Autism Spectrum) and is undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Health Studies through Victoria University – Te Herenga Waka, in Wellington. Dorothy is passionate about challenging the relevance of Western autism assessments and diagnoses practices and the implications these might have for Māori. 

Dorothy provides essential guidance to navigate the health and disability sectors, ensuring whānau are not hindered by unfamiliar terminology and Western concepts. The trust offers Marae-based professional development for whānau and professionals, fostering a supportive environment grounded in Māori cultural perspectives. Utilizing Indigenous knowledge systems, Dorothy helps whānau understand the meaning of autism through the lens of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world). Her deep respect and commitment to her community drive her grassroots efforts, working closely with whānau Māori to make a meaningful impact through her work and partnerships with her community.

Dorothy sits on various local boards, including the Disability Advisory Panel of the Office of the Ombudsman, New Zealand. Dorothy is also a New Zealand collaborator for the Re-Storying Autism program based in Canada. 

Most importantly, Dorothy is the grandmother of Carni, her Taonga Takiwātanga (treasure on the autism spectrum).