Manawa means heart in Te Reo Māori and “our heart” is what Manawa Harrison, 17, is to his friends and whānau.

Manawa’s journey has not been an easy one. He was diagnosed at a young age with Autism, ADHD, SPD and mild Tourette Syndrome. He had trouble focusing in school and his behaviour was often erratic.

Living in the small East Coast town of Ruatoria, (Ruatorea) near Gisborne, made access to services and professionals that could help very difficult.

After years of struggle, his father Sparks, along with some supportive medical specialists, decided it was time to stop focusing on what he “should” be doing and instead focus on what he loves to do.

For Manawa that means going hard on the self taught drums, flying through the air doing bombs, hot pools and all things water related.

And so for four school holidays in a row, Sparks and Manawa made the eight hour journey from Ruatoria to Auckland to attend the Splash Break-Away Programme run by Drowning Prevention Auckland, first in Manurewa then at West Wave in Henderson.

Sparks explains that being in the water is beneficial for Manawa’s focus, its something he enjoys and can be successful at doing.
“I spent many hours for three weeks looking at different holiday programmes around New Zealand, he’d done lots of different camps, basketball holiday programmes, but then I saw Splash.”

“He loves it. He loves the staff, he thinks they are really cool, there was no negativity and he enjoys being around the other kids. He wasn’t sure if he would like it at first but he really did. I had tears in my eyes driving back to Ruatoria listening to him talk about having such a good time.”

“It’s something new to learn and it’s really fun, I like everything about it.”
Manawa Harrison

Sparks is also appreciative of West Wave Aquatics Centre and Diving New Zealand who made time for Manawa to do some sweet bombs from the top diving board.

“The younger kids from the Splash programme came to watch him and were like ‘wow look at him’ – he loved that.”

Being involved in water and water safety programmes have really helped build Manawa’s self confidence and he is now regularly attending school in Ruatoria as well as Tautau Village in Gisborne to help him with life skills. He has a bright future ahead of him with plans to play the drums at Wembley Stadium as well as help other children with Autism find their passions.

“Manawa wasn’t ever supposed to be able to do some of things he can do, but he is doing them.”

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Our next Splash one day water safety programmes run at several facilities across Auckland in the September/October school holidays

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