April’s graduation ceremony will be a special celebration for single mum Kyle Hefferon, who has just completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in Environmental Planning and Geography, and a Certificate in Māori and Indigenous Studies.
Born and raised in Taranaki, Kyle (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Hine) went to a small rural school of 34 pupils before moving to Auckland at the age of 10. She remembers struggling with education as a teenager and even though she enrolled in university during her twenties, Kyle felt overwhelmed and dropped out. It wasn’t until her mid-thirties that she decided to give tertiary education another go. “I started my degree at the University of Waikato as a mature student and forced myself through the first year,” she says. Kyle threw herself into her study and decided to also immerse herself in te ao Māori, as she had never previously had any connection to her Māori heritage. “It was probably the most emotionally draining thing I have ever experienced, but I’m really proud of the knowledge I’ve gained,” she says.
Kyle has been diagnosed with ADHD, and is currently going through the process of Autism Spectrum Disorder assessment. Her diagnosis helped her come to terms with her differences, but also her strengths and abilities, and prompted her to enquire about the Master of Disability and Inclusion Studies. “The programme sounded interesting and related to issues close to my heart – I have a sister with intellectual and physical disabilities,” she says. “I was extremely excited to hear that my previous studies had given me a good grounding, so I’m really enjoying being able to finally bring everything together!”
Currently in the first year of her masters degree, Kyle feels that the programme has given her the ability to understand a lot of the difficulties she’s encountered from an academic perspective. “Lecturers and students have created an inclusive community, where my strengths and differences are being recognised as a good thing, which makes me feel that I now have the potential to help others in similar circumstances.”
The graduation ceremony is only a few days away, and even though Kyle is not a fan of the limelight, she’s looking forward to it. “I’m excited, but also a little freaked out,” she says. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, because I’ll end up worrying about being social on the day and having to walk on stage in front of so many people.”
Senior Lecturer Dr Carol Hamilton is very proud of Kyle’s academic achievements. “As a university we’re becoming a lot more aware of what we need to do to make sure that our very gifted students with autism are creatively worked with,” she says. “We need to continue to provide unique opportunities for autistic students to show their difference and talent, and we must celebrate their strengths and their ability to study hard and deeply.”