Teowai's story

Teowai is a young woman living with FASD in Aotearoa, New Zealand who's keen for her voice to be heard...

Teowai recently attended a FASD-CAN Hui/meeting in Auckland, where she and other rangatahi/young adults with FASD saw a live webinar featuring some of the Changemakers including CJ Lutke, Jessica Birch and Katrina Griffin. As part of the Hui, people with FASD were for the first time in NZ given the chance to speak out in public.

This is Teowai's story. 


Tena koutou katoa                                           

Taku whakapapa                             

Mai i Maketu ki Tongariro              

Ko Te Arawa te waka                       

Ko Ngati Whakaue te iwi                 

Ko Ngongotaha te maunga             

Ko Rotorua te roto                           

Ko Tamatekapua te rangatira         

Ko Teowai taku ingoa                   

Tena koutou katoa



My family history

From Maketu to Tongariro                                        

My canoe is Te Arawa

My tribe is Ngati Whakaue       

My mountain is Ngongotaha  

My lake is Rotorua   

My ancestor is Tamatekapua

My name is Teowai



My name’s Teowai and I want to share with you all about living with FASD.

Over the years living with FASD has been a struggle for me. First of all it’s taken until very recently for me to have been professionally diagnosed with FASD. This means that I now have the evidence and explanation for myself and many of the hardships I have faced.

Let me tell you about the two major areas where FASD has impacted my life.

The first one is my education. The second is being in OT care as a foster kid.

My school experience

So, where do I start… well, from primary school up until high school I never really did fit in. My peers and teachers were awesome and fun but I knew somewhere something wasn’t quite right with me.

In class, I found listening to my teacher and being present was a struggle of its own. When sitting for long periods of time I became restless and fidgety, as I was through the remainder of the lesson. When it came to remembering what the next task was, whether be writing or a group activity I was never able to accomplish or achieve it well. This lead me to feel negative emotions and become a nuisance to deal with.

Starting in primary, making friends was never easy for me to begin with. I got bullied a lot which only made it worse in the long run. I felt like loner and everybody started to notice, my classroom peers sometimes would help me out but only if they got asked to. I was ignored mostly and felt invisible within class periods.

I always hated reading in class aloud and being the one to present when in group activities. I was always anxious and scared to even talk. I used to have what I thought were my friends at one time, they quickly showed being ‘two faced’ and left me behind, I never understood why but I realised the bigger picture later on.

Eventually after finishing primary I was ready for going into intermediate. But I kept a promise to  myself to stay on my own, being alone was easier than having friends back then.

Going into intermediate was the hardest two school years of my life, I felt excited to learn new things and skills. But soon this became a stressful situation.

What I have found to be the hardest in my learning

  • Assessments and deadlines
  • Classroom environments
  • Group activities and peer relationships

I found intermediate in particular an issue when I was put into a combined class with 70+ students and only three teachers. I felt very stressed and frustrated with my teachers at that time because they didn’t really understand my needs or support me.

I had a hard time in social interactions, which include group activities and presentations. I didn’t understand the topic or task when given a group project to do. I always felt invisible and lonely because of this. I’ve always found it hard to socialise and communicate with others. This has been tough for me all my life.

I know that FASD is the cause of most of my struggles in daily life. This is because my brain is different and doesn’t work the same as others.

What I found best and worked well for me

  • Supported Learning (high school)
  • Kind teachers and support
  • Visual learning

At high school, I was put into a supported learning class and found it fun and nice to be with others with similar challenges like me. I managed to achieve level 1 and 2 NCEA with this help.

Often my teachers used too many words and because of my memory I couldn’t remember all the info I was told. Where my teachers used visual prompts in class and wrote instructions on the board I was able to follow what the task was and achieve well.

OT (Oranga Tamariki) and being in foster care

I first went into OT care when I was two years old. By nine years I had been in 10/11 different placements. Many of my foster parents didn’t seem to understand or support me. I felt like they were ignorant and biased against me because I wasn’t like a normal kid.  No one seemed to care or notice that I was different. This now would be explained through my FASD diagnosis.

I wish that my social workers and caregivers had the knowledge and understanding that I had a disability, it was real but just hidden from plain sight.

More recently...

In the last 10 years I have had more understanding caregivers and that has shown me compassion and helped motivate me for the future.

Living with FASD has been a rough one. For my future I want to learn to accept my FASD and find my own peace of mind.

I am glad I have become a member of FASD–CAN and attended the first ever FASD Pizza Night in Auckland and now I am here with you all today at the Hui.

I hope these moments will more frequent where we can become heard and our voices strong.

Thanks for listening, nga mihi!