Pictured: Central Lakes Parent to Parent Regional Coordiantor Breanna Turner
When her youngest children were born, Rotorua mum Fran Fitzell thought she had everything well in hand.
She already had five grown children and thought she was older, wiser and “ready to rock” being a parent all over again. But this time parenthood proved to be an extremely tough ride.
Her children, now aged 11 and 9, were recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism after years of behavioural struggles and knowing something wasn’t right. “I didn’t have a clue what was going on and I thought I’d broken my children,” Fran laughs now, looking back.
Families who receive an unexpected medical diagnosis – at their child’s birth or in later years – are often shocked and need emotional and moral support.
Fortunately Fran found the help she needed at Parent to Parent – a nationwide organisation which supports families with children who have medical conditions, disabilities or other special needs.
“You don’t realise what kind of life you’re going to have until you’re living it, and to have other people that ‘get’ you and understand your situation is invaluable,” she says.
Parent to Parent provides wrap-around support for the entire family and offers free information on over 3600 different medical conditions.
That information includes specific issues surrounding that condition plus topics such as getting respite support, managing stress, travelling with a person with a disability, or how to help your young adult plan an independent life.
The organisation also trains ‘support parents’ to help other local families whose child has the same condition or disability as their own. Being able to speak with someone who has “been there too” is an ideal way to help navigate all the issues that arise during that child’s lifetime.
Parent to Parent Central Lakes regional co-ordinator Breanna Turner says 516 separate families from Rotorua, Taupo, Turangi and the surrounding district are currently receiving support.
“Parent to Parent is about opening doors to show families that their lives can still be great and full of hope – just different,” she says.
Support groups and camps are organised for siblings to acknowledge the extra effort their home life demands, and Renew workshops are held for parents who are new to the world of disability.
“The feedback we get is incredible – parents come away buzzing with the mind-set that they really can get through tough times, think big, have hope and create meaningful everyday lives for everyone in the family.”
This year BayTrust is granting Parent to Parent’s Central Lakes branch $5000 towards their operating costs to allow this great work to continue in the region.
Breanna says the money will help her keep pace with all the changes happening in the medical and disability sectors, and fund necessary items like power, phone and mileage costs.
“It’s quite surprising how much it costs to run an office and funding is getting tighter,” she says. “The money from BayTrust is absolutely essential. There’s no way we can keep doing what we’re doing without it.”
For Fran and her family, Parent to Parent has been a lifeline she couldn’t do without. She now plans to undertake training and become a support parent herself to help other Central Lakes families deal with autism.
“These people get you. It’s happened to them. You can go into one of their support groups feeling like the world is collapsing on top of you, and you come out laughing. Having contact with people living the same life as you makes all the difference.”