At 22, Allan Croucher has faced more challenges than many of us, and he's done it with a positive attitude, unending persistence and a whole bunch of support from his loving family.

Born with a developmental delay, but with his Asperger's not diagnosed properly until he was around 6 years old, Allan and his family struggled to get the help they needed.

Missing out on kindergarten and then being excluded from school made for some tough times for Allan and his parents Melanie and Bruce.

"It was when Allan eventually started at Sommerville Special School that we finally could start seeing a way forward," says Bruce.

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"And once at the school, he then became part of fantastic projects like the Special Children's Christmas Parties (SCCP).

"These take place every year thanks to the support of NZME and Sky who have been involved for 16 years. It was here we really started to build up our network of parents and kids in the same boat as us – and find ways to be hopeful about what was ahead."

Allan first went to the SCCP aged 6 and now he goes back every year with the team from Sky to help entertain around 10,000 children with special needs at events around New Zealand, including one at Mystery Creek near Hamilton on Saturday, December 7.

Bruce Croucher, who works for Sky, says, "It was like a light going off for us the first time we went. There were thousands of other parents with kids who presented with all sorts of challenges.

"We were all in one place, at one time, experiencing something pretty special – where the kids were being treated generously and with love.

"I've been part of every SCCP ever since. And now Allan is also giving back."

Allan says, "My favourite part of the parties is being able to help the little ones. I remember what it was like when I realised I was different, but the Special Children's Christmas Parties made me feel appreciated and good for being different.

"The other fun part of the day is the bus ride to and from the party with my Dad's co-workers. They come from all over and I get to practise my Samoan, te reo Māori, Hindi and Afrikaans."

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Allan reckons the parties are part of the reason he's so successful now as a swimming competitor with Special Olympics New Zealand and as a motivational speaker. Allan is invited to speak at all sorts of events thanks to the confidence he's gained by being supported throughout his life.

Bruce tells how Allan had forged a friendship with Royce Simmons, Penrith Panther Hall-of-Famer, on a family vacation.

Unbeknown to Bruce, Allan had secured an invitation to speak to the Panthers ahead of an upcoming game – but the first he knew of this was when Royce called to ask what time they were arriving at the airport?

"That did prompt a family conference about keeping everyone in the loop – but we went, he spoke, and he inspired everyone. He's pretty amazing."

Allan wants the world to know hope is everything. "It doesn't matter who you are or what you are facing, hope is the most important thing.

"Alongside all the hours I spend in the pool training to get better and faster,
"I'm also training to be a global messenger of hope for people like me. Events like the Special Children's Christmas Parties give hope to kids and their families just like ours."

Special Children's Christmas Parties

• Waikato/Bay of Plenty: Saturday, December 7, Mystery Creek Event Centre

• Auckland: Saturday, December 14, Auckland Showgrounds, Greenlane

Mark Wikstrom from SCCP says: "Over the past 21 years we have given away over 136,000 toys, 15,000 sausages, we've deployed more than 2000 activities, had the help of 8000 plus volunteers, and celebrated difference with 320,000 children and their caregivers.

"The entire day is a highlight for the kids. For many, it's the only day they look forward to each year and we start getting requests in March or even earlier. The day starts with a three-hour stage show with about eight different acts.

"There are many activities – mostly thanks to Sky, which includes bouncy castles, catch games, hoop throwing, basketball shoots, darts, shooting alley, ball toss, a maze, train rides, games specifically for smaller children."

The toy cave opens after an hour and continues for two hours when Santa and his team give away everything from large soft toys, laptop computers, Lego, sports equipment, remote control cars and trucks, keyboards, musical instruments, building blocks, catch games, watches, jewellery, clocks, walkie talkies, dolls, board game sets, and Meccano sets.