COVID-19: Parents of children with special needs at breaking point after months without school

Many Kiwis have been struggling with having their children at home instead of school - but for parents of kids with special needs, it's been much tougher.

Angela and Adrian Hood are the parents of Olivia who, like most Auckland school kids, has been at home for almost 13 weeks due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

They have to keep her busy - a hell of a job, because Olivia is not like other kids. She is the only child in New Zealand with a genetic condition called Smith-Kingsmore syndrome.

Olivia is 13 years old, but went through puberty at age nine and now weighs 90kg. She is autistic, intellectually disabled and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

For most parents, online class time is a break - but not in this house.

Olivia goes to Somerville School, a school for kids with special needs. Her parents have allowed Newshub into their life to show how hard lockdown is for parents of children with special needs.

They have patience that only unconditional love can bring.

"They are your kids; you love them, and you'll do what you need to for them - but we need some support," Olivia's dad Adrian said. "Otherwise some of these parents are going to break down; they just mentally won't be able to cope."

Like so many schools in Auckland, Somerville School is closed. Its students have missed 11 weeks at 30 hours a week, which for parents means they have to look after their kids, or pay for care, for an extra 330 hours - with no extra funding to cover that. 

"We get daily messages from parents, phone calls, ringing up saying they can't cope," says mum Angela.

Adrian warns "somebody is going to snap" if something doesn't change - so a group of families are calling for additional funding.

He says it'd mean a lot "to have some recognition from the Government that we are doing it hard, that we do need some support - because we feel like we have been abandoned".

But the Ministry of Health has ruled out any extra funding for children with special needs, saying it "is not looking to single out one specific service with increased payment as a result of lockdown".

"If you were [Prime Minister] Jacinda [Ardern] I'd say 'nice to meet you, I'm going off for a coffee - you can look after her for half an hour'," Angela said.

Lockdown is a struggle for everyone, but some need much more help than others.