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Action Needed Now For Neurodiverse Children

Neurodiversity is one of the great unaddressed issues of our time, says Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, who will address the Belief Change Family Journey forum in Queenstown this weekend.

This year’s Forum is hosted by Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand, sponsored by Cookie Time Charitable Trust. Judge Becroft, keynote speaker at the Forum, will talk about the critical importance of whānau/family in the wellbeing and resilience of children with neurodevelopmental issues, including dyslexia.

“In the words of one child: ‘really, just people who really believe in you is the most essential thing in having a good life – and people who support you no matter what’,” Judge Becroft says.

“Our Office often hears stories from children and young people who are neurodiverse of mental illness, disengagement, marginalisation, discrimination, and bullying.

“History will judge us harshly for our lack of understanding of evidence-based approaches.

“There are fantastic grassroots organisations doing everything they can to support neurodiverse children at school, and in all the other areas of their daily lives. But these efforts need the backing of legislation that makes accessibility in education and every other aspect of children’s lives, a priority.

“At the heart of it all is a supportive and engaged family,” Judge Becroft says.

Guy Pope-Mayell, DFNZ Chair of Trustees, says legislation must be the end goal.

“Struggle and shame remain the reality for the majority of neurodiverse children in the New Zealand classroom. Whilst there are many grassroots initiatives that support and highlight the strengths of neurodiversity, the flipside of this localised positivity is national pain. Ultimately this needs to be tackled from the top down, with legislation that makes accessibility for all in education – and in fact across all areas of life - a priority,” he says.

DFNZ is backing new legislation to introduce enforceable standards for accessibility for all New Zealanders across all areas of life, from education to workplaces, the built environment including public transport through to social inclusion and leisure, tourism and hospitality, goods and services and digital spaces. The new Accessibility Aotearoa Act, championed by the Access Alliance, has support from all major Parliamentary parties with enforceable regulations expected within two years.

“At the family level, there is a real journey in dealing with the overwhelm of discovering your child has dyslexic or neurodiverse tendencies. You hurt for them, you are all vulnerable and it is natural to feel confusion, doubt, and shame. The Belief Change Family Forum is designed to delete belief systems that don’t serve and install those that do – giving your child ownership, strength, empowerment and a willingness to take control and feel complete.

“So great for those who can attend a Forum, not so great for the vast majority of neurodiverse children caught in the pain cycle. Accessibility legislation is the only way to tackle this at a society wide level, so that all can benefit,” Pope-Mayell says.

‘And it goes beyond education. To put it bluntly, the workplace environment is not working for anyone with accessibility issues, nor are the other areas of life that people engage in, use or participate in.

“This drive for new legislation acknowledges that current Human Rights legislation is insufficient. It does not set clear and specific expectations on accessibility and it has no teeth. In contrast, the new Accessibility Aotearoa Act does all this and more. And the sooner it is introduced the better,” Pope-Mayell says

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