A Kiwi mum was terrified her children were going to be uplifted when a psychiatrist reported her to Oranga Tamariki after asking for help with her neurodiverse daughter.
Sharne King has three children, two of whom are neurodiverse. Her eldest daughter Sarah*,12, has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
ODD is a behavioural disorder which is often diagnosed in children. A child with ODD may be defiant, easily angered and refuse to follow rules or listen to authority figures. They may also deliberately annoy other people and blame others for mistakes.
King, who herself has ADHD and Asperger syndrome, says she started seeing the psychiatrist because Sarah was having behavioural challenges at school. In one incident, Sarah hit her principal when she was being told off.
King hoped the psychiatrist could offer some practical tips or suggestions but instead, he filed a report with Oranga Tamariki asking for King's other children to be removed from her care.
"My daughter has some behavioural challenges and she is very extreme and defiant because of the ODD," she told Newshub.
"He was concerned about my two younger children… and their safety because of the extremity of her meltdowns and outbursts. So he took it upon himself [to file a report].
"His words were, 'She needs more one-on-one care and I'm concerned about the safety of your other children'."
King scheduled the appointment because Sarah needed help but said she was never worried about her other children's safety.
In a desperate attempt to keep her children, she started gathering references from health professionals and teachers.
"I was scared that my children were going to be uplifted when I was busting my butt trying to do my best and get help and support," she said.
Oranga Tamariki dismissed the report but King said it was traumatic and goes against the message to ask for help when you're struggling.
"You see all this advertising in regards to mental health. [You're told] 'reach out, it's okay not to be okay'… and you reach out for help and… it's such a degrading, demoralising process."
King said the same psychiatrist also physically removed Sarah from the room during another consultation. As a result, Sarah is anxious when she visits any medical professional because she is worried she will be "dragged out of the room".
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It's not the only time King's pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears. When Sarah was eight years old she expressed suicidal and self-harming thoughts.
Concerned for her wellbeing, King immediately asked for help but was told she was too young to "articulate" her feelings.
"A mental health support worker told me, 'That's unusual, I haven't heard of an eight-year-old feeling like that before'.
"And I said, 'Well can we please get some help? I'm concerned for her wellbeing'...but the referral was denied because 'children can only articulate those feelings when they are 11'.
"It's just hitting a brick wall every time - it's exhausting."
King also met with a different psychiatrist and a special education needs coordinator for guidance and support. But was told they could only offer antipsychotic medication for Sarah or a referral to family therapy. King chose therapy but nine months later still hasn't heard anything.
She said many health professionals don't understand what it is like to live in a neurodiverse environment.
"It's a really tough, scary world trying to navigate how to support your children socially and emotionally when you've only got yourself to rely on because you've been constantly let down by public agencies that promise to help."
Her children are incredibly talented but they are overlooked because of "stereotypes, judgement and labels", she said.
Dyslexia Foundation NZ Chair of Trustees Guy Pope-Mayell, who is working to get better support for parents of children with neuro-diversities, said this is a common story.
Pope-Mayell said it sounds like a complex needs situation which can make it even more difficult to get help.
He said the New Zealand health system is lacking clear pathways for parents of children with neurodiversity to get support.
"She [King] is doing the best she can with the resources she has got but what's missing from New Zealand is a clear pathway for parents to know where to get help and the next steps.
"This is a very, very common issue which thousands or tens of thousands of families are going through. It is very typical."
A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Newshub it's important children who need specialist mental health support have access to the health system.
"Children with conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder can also have co-existing mental health conditions....because treatment can vary depending on an individual’s needs, New Zealand has dedicated services to ensure the right care and support is provided for people with disability, including neurodevelopmental disorders. These are called Needs Assessment and Service Coordination services and are organisations that work with people and their whānau to identify support available.
Anyone with concerns about treatment through the mental health system, or lack of appropriate treatment, should lodge an official complaint with the District Health Board involved in providing those services. People can also make complaints about health or disability services to the Health and Disability Commissioner."
The spokesperson said anyone with concerns about someone who may be in suicidal distress should contact a mental health crisis team, or accompany the person to the emergency department of their nearest hospital.
*Sarah is not her real name
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