When Kuljeet Singh and Maia Kawana first took their sons Carlos and Ashwin to McKenzie Centre in Hamilton, they knew they had finally found a safe place for their boys.
After a speech and language therapist assessed the boys, paediatrician David Newman diagnosed them with autism and told Kuljeet and Maia about McKenzie Centre.
Carlos was 3½ and Ashwin was 2.
“We were just typical new parents trying to find answers; we thought Carlos had hearing problems because he had speech delays,” said Maia.
There were so many dismissals “he will grow out of it” or “there’s nothing wrong” and unsuitable alternatives offered.
“They were the band aid they kept putting on the inevitable,” said Kuljeet.
That was until the introduction to McKenzie Centre where they met centre director Trisha Benge and her team.
McKenzie Centre offers early childhood intervention and support for children aged from birth to school age who have a developmental delay or disability, and their whānau.
“I felt McKenzie Centre was a safe place for our children and a safe place for parents,” said Maia.
“The understanding and emotional support was huge, the acceptance and the techniques we were taught, we still use today.”
Maia and Kuljeet participated in Now and Next and Transition to School sessions which prepared them for life after McKenzie Centre.
“That was a great foundation for us, it really empowered us as parents. It made us think ‘yes we can do this,’” said Kuljeet.
Maia noticed when he was at McKenzie Centre that men needed their own support network so he formed a Dads’ Group.
He thought group sessions would work best but in that first year he did what the other dads wanted, which instead of group session, began as a one on one chat and as we got to know each other, the value of the connection became more important.
“It just needed that trust thing. My only frustration is I don’t do it anywhere as much as I would like to as you only have a certain amount of bandwidth.”
He and Kuljeet know dads value the sessions and the opportunity to talk to other men in the same situation.
“I’ve had other mothers text me about the impact the Dads’ Group had on their partners,” she said.
“It has become a great support network for dads to ask any questions and to listen to other dads’ stories.”
“As parents, we have common concerns for our children such as education, friendships, careers and life skills,” he said.
It has been two years since Ashwin, now 6 left McKenzie Centre and both he and Carlos, 8 attend Tauhei School, a mainstream rural primary school 13kms northwest of Morrinsville.
Skills learned at the centre have helped the boys and their parents.
“We do not bubble wrap them; we expose them to normal life using the tools and techniques we learned through the McKenzie Centre.
“When you go to McKenzie, they say you can do it,” said Kuljeet.
Preparation and planning are the key as are setting goals, like having a family holiday in Fiji.
“We don’t keep them at home. We took them to Chartwell, we walked in, we walked out, we walked in again and we walked out again. We planned for it, so they were ready for it, so it was part of everyday life.”
And thanks to some meticulous planning, before Covid, they took the boys to Fiji on an aeroplane.
“We had many concerns about that trip, the airport, the flight, the new accommodation, their food and diet, supervision etc. It was a mammoth goal which we initially felt we could never accomplish, but we did.”
The boys now also catch the bus to school.
“The greatest thing we can teach our kids is the ability to adapt to this world and how to grit your teeth.
“They get off the school bus and “let go” because they have been gritting their teeth all day,” said Maia.
“That’s what I will say about McKenzie Centre. It’s the acceptance of who you are, they give you the skills and techniques through life,” said Kuljeet.
Maia says he often finds himself using the skills without realising.
“We don’t have things on the wall to remind us. We’ve internalised it.
“Those are the techniques we learned at McKenzie Centre.”