Sunday, January 8, 2012


So we have arrived in New Zealand. We have bought a house. We have fitted safety locks and built a fence to stop the children running down the slope, plus gates to stop them leaping down the balcony steps - "deck" they call it here - to oblivion. Plus a lock on the sliding door to stop them slipping out onto the balcony, and hence to oblivion.

We are shattered but happy. The move feels right, the climate feels great so far (admittedly we are in the middle of the wettest summer New Zealand has known for many years so that all the locals are complaining, but by our Yorkshire-honed standards it seems pretty temperate and nice), the kids like their new lifestyle...

Ah yes, the kids. There is one thing we seem to have acquired on the way from England - dreadful, absolutely dreadful, behaviour from all three of them at points. We were kind of expecting it, you don't take three children with additional needs out of everything they know and expect, throw them on a plane for forty hours, coop them up in a two-bedroom flat for three weeks, then let them loose in a new house with nothing to do and no school and expect there to be no repercussions.

However I was hoping not quite to be in the position I was in today, when I emailed the local childhood autism charity and pleaded for help, because I really didn't feel I was managing the children's behaviour.

Because the thing is, I brought lots of experience with me. We had a brilliant Learning Disability nurse who taught me some tricks of the trade, visual timetables and scales of emotions and now-and-then boards and...and...and plenty other stuff. We had an awesome speech therapist, specialist in autism, who sat in our house and dripped expertise, drawing us up social stories and lending us books about CBT....
I should be fine. I have all this baggage. But none of it quite fits what I need right now. Because of course my boys aren't behaving in the ways that I am used to managing, this is a new situation and they have responded by developing new strategies to try my patience: I shall have to find new strategies to respond to them. Now that I look at my skills, I feel somewhat like the woman described in Susan Coolidge's novel of nineteenth-century emigration from east to the American West, who insisted on bringing thread and needle, because there would be nothing as civilised as that locally. When she arrives, she finds that what she has brought is either excessive or useless, because there is plenty of stuff locally available and she needs to find what is to hand. Clearly, from the conversations I have had today on phone and email, there is lots of local expertise, lots of support available: I need to stop rummaging in my baggage for skills that aren't working and go hunting for the right local expert, the right strategy, the right network here. To enable the boys and I to have fun here, in this beautiful land. Because too much baggage weighs you down: it will be no fun if I spend all my time struggling under the strain of not feeling able to handle them.

I feel like a newborn child in New Zealand. No awareness of the local culture, no grasp of the practicalities like how to buy a stamp. I can't even find a GP willing to register us. And I have to find superb disability support, IMMEDIATELY, for my bright, high-functioning and challenging kids if we are not all to spend the rest of the summer screaming at each other.

It's a tough call. I'll let you know how it goes.

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