The parents of two autistic Kiwi sisters have shifted back to the United Kingdom after being stonewalled by New Zealand schools.
Kath and Dave White had lived here for more than 20 years and their daughters Ella, 8, and Sophie, 9, were born here when a good job offer sent them to the UK for two years.
Last September they arrived home, keen to get back into the Kiwi way of life and they say that getting their daughters into good schools was their first priority. But then came what they describe as the toughest six weeks of their lives. The couple visited 12 Auckland schools in three weeks and were either turned away or discouraged.
"We were told what principals could not do for our children," said Dave White from his home in Maidenhead, England. "It was soul-destroying. We felt we had no option but to leave New Zealand, which is ludicrous because it's our home."
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Kath White said the schools did not have the expertise to deal with autism spectrum disorder. "Getting the girls back into school in New Zealand was a nightmare filled with rejection, excuses and heartache," she said. The rejection came not only from the schools but from the Ministry of Education.
"We feel very bitter and let down by the education system in New Zealand. The girls are mainstreamed here [in the UK] and receive 39 hours' teacher aide support each week and are thriving."
Dave White said his daughters were "statemented" in the UK, equivalent to receiving ongoing resource funding. In New Zealand the family were told it was unlikely either Sophie or Ella would meet the threshold for the scheme.
The couple say they feel isolated and do not have a network of family and friends in the UK but the education of their daughters had to come first.
Last week, theThe Herald on Sunday revealed aggrieved parents of children with disabilities were considering lodging a group action against schools. The newspaper was inundated with stories similar to that of Kath and Dave White.