Parents and whanau need guidance information and knowledge when navigating the world of ADHD diagnosis and care for their kids, says second year Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Waikato Kelly Robyns.

“Currently the gateway to help on an ADHD journey is doctor – then a referral to CAMHS then if/when you don’t tick enough boxes to qualify for ongoing care CAMHS discharges you – you then pause or stop because you are tired, and then, you go private. Which is laughable on a single parent’s income – especially when you can’t hold down a full time job because your child has lots of sick days. It’s a very individualized system of support.”

Kelly has just been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Adult Learners Award (one of four recipients); recognising outstanding achievements by students aged over 25.

Kelly is a single parent to a child with ADHD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Sensory processing issues.  She chose her degree after experiencing the gaps in support and diagnostic systems around ADHD and, as a budding social worker, hopes to help other parents gain easier access to support networks and assistance.

“When I applied for the award I was thinking that would pay for nine sessions with a child psychologist. Parents should be able to enjoy their kids and plan holiday’s instead of worrying how to pay the psychologists bill!”

Kelly says she always knew Riley’s brain was wired differently.

“Once he was out of his cot – he didn’t sleep. It’s the anxiety.”

Once her son began school he needed more days off than your average kid and that much extra emotional support. So Kelly re-assessed her nine-to-five job, and decided to go back to study.

“People don’t understand the link between physical sickness and mental sickness –there is still the view in New Zealand that children don’t get anxious or stressed or depressed. Therefore, they don’t see when a child has a lot of days off due to Pneumonia or the flu that is often the result of extreme stress and anxiety the child is feeling. Add into that the lack of sleep that comes with a brain that doesn’t switch off you have a kid in constant damage control, trying to navigate a world they don’t always understand – they are exhausted and every day is that much harder when you haven’t slept.”

I asked her if she ever cried with the mental juggle of it all.

“You even have to schedule in crying so your child doesn’t see you crying and think they’re too much hard work.”

Now aged 10, her son is an excellent basketball and tennis player. He also loves maths – “maths for him is security” and when he is getting heightened he gets his maths book out and writes out his timetables, every answer is the same!

He attends his local Tauranga primary school for four days of the week and Mockingbird on Fridays. Mockingbird is a non-profit organisation which runs a three-day a week programme for neuro diverse children aged five to 18.

“We love it – the like-minded kids and the like-minded parents…there is such relief when you talk to people who just get it. As a parent of a differently gifted child you learn very quickly who gets it and who doesn’t. Unless you’ve experienced an ADHD, or autistic meltdown for example, you simply don’t get it.”

She says parenting in New Zealand can still be very old school where a “harden-up” and “parents are always right” attitude still prevails. She’s hoping that through her studies and subsequent career to be a part of a “softening” of behaviours and support.

“Children are human beings – they need to be talked to and loved and shown respect.”

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