Going to primary school, however, presented new challenges, as the individual support of early childhood was replaced with the expectation that every child would fit into the same pigeonhole and just follow the rules. Moreover, although he was not a trouble-maker, other children bullied and made fun of him. In the classroom he needed the support of a teacher aide, but because he did not qualify for one, his parents paid for an aide, and for a reading tutor. Within weeks he had skipped ahead two years in his reading age! Additional parent-funded support helped his maths, spelling and grammar.
At intermediate, he was faced again with bullying in a situation that his mother recognises just is not set up to support a boy “who, to this day has difficulty understanding when to join the conversation and when to laugh at something someone has said”. He was also challenged by the complexity of the instructions in classes that meant he was almost always being growled at for not keeping up.
However, high school was a more positive experience as his artistic creativity was finally recognised. A highly talented visual artist and a wonderful story writer, he also found others who loved the world of magic and fantasy as much as he did. As his mother says, “The magical world was probably easier to negotiate than the actual world”. And then there was the world of the theatre where he has excelled, earning a degree in drama and a teaching qualification. He was out of the woods, it would seem. But the challenges he faces are not things he can ‘grow out of’. Interpersonal interactions remain hard, as does organising and following through the complex set of tasks that constitutes daily living and teaching quickly proved more than he could manage and he is again looking for a new pathway.
Throughout, his parents have been able to support their son through his challenges; and they remain forever grateful to the Champion Centre for the support they and their son received in the early years. But this doesn’t make the pain and grief of their journey as parents any less raw. This young man’s fragilities and the risks to his mental and physical health will always be there and only a society that steps up to valuing differences, rather than seeing them as excuses for exclusion, can make a genuine and long-term difference.
The Champion Centre is administered by the Christchurch Early Intervention Trust, and is registered with the Chartities Commission (CC22708). Gifts of over $5 are eligible for tax rebates.
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