WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Hunter is a cheeky, adventurous five-year-old. He’s full of character, has no fear, loves people and is on the autistic spectrum. Hunter started at the Champion Centre in 2016 when he was almost four and attended the Relating and Communicating Programme on Friday mornings with his Dad, Tom. He is currently in the Transition to School program.
When Hunter started at the Champion Centre, he barely spoke and struggled to cope with new situations and unfamiliar surroundings. His mum, Natalie, was uncertain about his future and didn’t know if Hunter would be able to attend a regular school. Her biggest hope for Hunter was that he would learn to communicate more effectively.
Natalie had heard about the Champion Centre from several people she knew and believed it would be a great fit for Hunter. When Hunter first started, they both found the Champion Centre team so welcoming.
“Right from the start it felt like they had known us for years. They made us feel at ease and it was a relief that the staff seemed to understand my child so well, so quickly,” Natalie says.
Since starting in the Transition to School program, Hunter has made significant progress. There have been big improvements in his verbal communication, he can follow a plan and does much better with playing and interacting with other children.
Hunter loves interacting with people, going to new places and will even try new foods now. Natalie is really excited about these achievements as she would love to be able to travel with him one day.
While not every day can be a great day, Natalie says that they always leave their sessions feeling happy, “There is always an achievement, no matter how small.”
Hunter is thriving within the Champion Centre environment and Natalie speaks very highly of the staff. “The team sets the agenda and like to push and challenge Hunter, but they also empower him and give him opportunities to lead his own activities and make decisions.”
Meeting Champion Centre children and families has taught the whole family to be more open and empathetic. Hunter’s brother, Benny (7), feels more confident in explaining to others why his brother sometimes does things differently and it has also helped him to understand that there are lots of people out there that are different in all sorts of ways.
“We have always been proud of Hunter, but the Champion Centre has given us the confidence to be his advocates and to talk to anyone about his strengths and challenges.”
Natalie believes that attending the Champion Centre has already made a significant difference to Hunter’s future. “With a bit of support, Hunter will be able to attend a regular school. Something we weren’t sure about earlier. With the support of the Champion Centre, Hunter is set to start at St Martins Primary School later this year. This shows the amazing progress Hunter has made and we are so excited for him!”
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
Name: Ryan Gourdie, aged 32 Attended Centre: from aged 6 weeks to 5 years
Ryan lives at home in a rural setting in West Eyrton, North Canterbury with his two ‘flatmates’, as he affectionately calls them (Mum and Dad). He has three sisters, of which two live in London, they are in their late 20’s. Ryan is fiercely proud of his Irish heritage and made a visit to Ireland last year with his family, part of six week overseas trip.
Ryan works part time at The Bog, a well known Irish pub in Christchurch. Every Monday and Friday morning, Ryan makes sure things are ready for opening time. There are chairs to put down, menus and wine lists to clean and ensuring the street front is clean and well presented. I ask Ryan if he likes to drink Guiness, and with a glint in his eye he proudly pulls out his loyalty card.
Two to three times a week Ryan and two other buddies are busy working with a gym trainer at Franks’ Brothers Gym in Papanui, where they are weightlifting. Hard work has resulted in Ryan competing at several regional and national competitions, and winning a gold medal at the National Games for Special Olympics in 2017. As well as the sporting prowess, Ryan enjoys the fun and banter he has with his fellow athletes while training. Ryan has also competed in mainstream competition which has been pivotal in bringing greater empathy to those involved in the sport, by integrating athletes with special needs into the mainstream. Ryan has also won gold medals for swimming at New Zealand and Australian Special Olympic Games in 2006 but power lifting is his sport of choice these days.
Once a week Ryan visits a local rest home in North Canterbury where he spends time with two elderly gentlemen. They often will read books together or just chat. Here Ryan is the one giving support, rather than receiving. Another day, Ryan belongs to a youth development group where he meets up with other young people and they engage in a wide range of activities. They have had the NZ Police and Fire Brigade in as guest speakers. Sometimes they will play football outside, do quizzes or listen to music or watch movies. ‘One of my favourite singers is Lady Gaga’, says Ryan.
Ryan has an appreciation of culture, whether it be Irish, Māori or Samoan. He was an active member of several Kapa Haka groups in his school days. Ryan can speak his mihi whakatau with passion and relay his Irish ancestry with conviction.
Ryan attended the Centre from aged 6 weeks to just before he turned 5 years old. Ryan’s Dad, Mike, attributes Ryan’s language skills down to the hard work of speech language therapist Jan Murphy and Marie, Ryan’s Mum, who put in many hours of work to help Ryan with his speech at the Champion Centre, those 30 years ago. The lifetime skill of being able to be understood and therefore able to engage with others was instrumental.
Mike says the Centre staff were outstanding, very hardworking and incredibly supportive. ‘They made you feel like you’d get there, that everything was achievable.’ A major highlight for the family, says Mike is that ‘by Ryan being accepted and embraced into employment, this truly integrates him as a valuable member of society’.