Reporting on politics and the environment

6 November 2009

Reporting on politics and the environment

Speech notes of Don Nicolson, President of Federated Farmers, delivered at the University of Otago

I wish to thank the University of Otago for affording me the opportunity of speaking to you in this session. I wish to acknowledge my co-panellists, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and the New Zealand Herald’s Brian Fallow.

Being a humble sheep farmer from Southland, an area once seen as a region in terminal decline, I can testify to how perceptions can be formed but then so easily confounded.

Instead of being New Zealand’s version of the ‘rust belt’, as it seemed in the 1980s, some say it’s more like Texas – but with more black, green, white and red gold potential. That being lignite, grass, milk and protein.

Nothing states progress more than winning that log of wood a few weeks ago. Boy, it’s grand to be alive.

You see farming too is bedevilled by preconceptions.

I call it the curse of 1980s. Farmers are typecast, wrongly, as wooden characters locked at some point in time, who apparently ‘bleat’ at the drop of a hat. It’s a caricature and it’s wrong.

This curse of the ‘80s is a folk-memory. The late David Lange’s misstep that, ‘agriculture was a sunset industry and manufacturing and tourism would take its place’, still haunts us today.

I think Mark Twain would have replied to Mr Lange that the rumours of agriculture’s death have been somewhat exaggerated.

The point in setting this scene of pre-conception is that agriculture’s economic importance has grown and not diminished.

Yet beneath this external perception of an insular industry, internally, our rural media is in rude health. There are dozens of skilled journalists in every sense of the word who take their craft extremely seriously.

The Guild of Agricultural Journalists & Communicators is a powerhouse of talent.

Yet New Zealand isn’t the Murray Ball image Kiwis co-opt but is very much an urban society. Our country is more urbanised than even Japan. The rural community is a mere 14 percent of the population while the pastoral farm population is estimated at just over 2 percent.

Servicing this small community includes three dedicated newspaper groups with a number of specialised magazines:

o Fairfax Rural Media Group’s main masthead is the weekly Straight Furrow. A masthead the Federation owned up until 1996

o NZX Rural’s main masthead is the weekly Farmers Weekly and

o Rural News Group’s main masthead is the eponymously named fortnightly, Rural News.

Outside of the weeklies, each of the major dailies has either a farming editor or a dedicated rural reporter. Yet farming forms a subset of the business section. Farming is seen, rightly, as being a business but this puts us at a public disadvantage to the environmental/political reporters who write in the main editorial section.

On radio there are four dedicated radio shows:

o Radio New Zealand’s sublime rural coverage and a weekly magazine style show

o Radioworks via Jamie Mackay’s daily show on its AM network

o Mediaworks competing daily show goes out on its BSport station with Richard Loe.

On television, we can boast a number of mainstream shows and even a dedicated channel:

o Country Calendar is a legend on TV1

o Rural Delivery is a weekly news show also on TV1

o The Country Channel on Sky channel 99 with more than 10,000 subscribers and

o Rob Cope-Williams farming show on regional television.

Online, there are a cornucopia of blogs, newswires and the like. We must also add in the publications we issue, like the quarterly National Farming Review and those of Fonterra, Meat & Wool, DairyNZ and the like.

Farmers don’t want for industry information, or challenge, and indeed devour it. In my organisation farmers speak for farmers, as we’re the ones with skin in the game.

The issue comes from reporting outside the farm gate.

To the uninitiated, agriculture can resemble a Masonic lodge, with ‘rituals’, ‘mysteries’ and ‘secrets’. If we reference back to San Lu, the agricultural reporters got shunted to one side while the political reporters muscled in and pulled rank.

We see the same thing emerging with the reporting of climate variation.

If you go by domestic reporting, it’s as if agriculture generates 99.9 percent of global emissions as opposed to a mere 0.1 percent.

There is precious little comparative reporting or a challenging of claims being made.

If we step back some 18 months, the fact Canada effectively gave up on Kyoto was never raised once as a reason to reject its pension fund’s bid for Auckland airport.

Yet the Green Party makes the claim we would be an international pariah without a massive emissions cut and an aggressive ETS.

Amazingly, mainstream media have omitted to inform the wider public that in Denmark, in whose capital a lot of people will compete for just 10,000 hotel beds, work will start on a post-Kyoto Protocol we’ll call Copenhagen.

Denmark resoundly rejected a methane tax. Why? Due to the adverse impact it would have had on Danish agriculture.

Not only that, but Europe’s farmers have, along with their North American brethren and probably those across the Tasman, won a free pass from their respective emissions trading regimes. It must be remembered that most farmers in Europe and North America benefit from massive subsidies. We don’t.

While John Key’s interview in the Wall Street Journal was given media prominence, the Journal’s critical editorials about our ETS related policies hasn’t.

The point I am making is that the mainstream media is self-censoring. There seems to be a conflict either with personal views or some accepted orthodoxy.

Whatever the reason, it builds a sense that the media is partisan on an issue very important to this country’s future. More so, given New Zealand is the only country on earth putting agriculture into an ETS.

I know the counter argument well too. Not including agriculture is like Australia ignoring coal. Then again, where’s the critical analysis on points of obligation? The issue with climate variation coverage is that is has not moved on far from the big picture, ‘save the planet’ line.

I mean, under Australia’s proposed ETS, only mining inputs and the domestic consumption of coal will be captured. Exported coal, like all fossil fuels, is zero rated; the treatment of that resource is left to the country importing it.

There’s one obvious question really, why can’t we do the same with food? Leave the emissions treatment over to the importing country.

This explains why farmers are seemingly from Mars but the media from Venus. A poll by the Business Council for Sustainable Development showed 90 percent of farmers believe the ETS is an ‘udder’ waste of time.

There’s another rub in all of this. Farmers are actually doing their bit for climate variation and the economy in spite of policy, not because of it.

Not that you would know from coverage.

New Zealand’s agricultural emissions represent 48 percent of our country’s profile. Yet agricultural emissions growth, between 1990 and 2007, was half that of the general economy; 12 percent for agriculture versus 24 percent for the rest of New Zealand.

Transport grew by 70 percent even with the Toyota Prius, while energy grew by 120 percent, despite the building of wind farms. Worse, electricity prices have gone up 70 percent plus as well.

Yet per unit of output, shock, horror, farmers have progressively reduced their emissions. You heard me right, progressively reduced the growth in agricultural emissions by twice that of the general economy.

You’d think there would be a slap on the back, given we’ve managed to lift productivity and the sector’s importance to the economy. No. Not a thing. Yet farmers are doing this through good business practice. That’s what removing state protection does.

I just wish to end by touching on what I consider to be an Achilles heel in this entire debate.

That being the focus on doom, which so dominates tomorrow’s world. As a Readers Digest poll revealed last week, this has many people turning against the green movement.

Not that this will see wanton destruction of the environment, more like low level passive resistance against being told what to do and how to think.

Look at it like this.

The daddy of all super volcanoes, Yellowstone, is now overdue to erupt and if it does, it is said 80 percent of all life on earth would perish. Meanwhile, Cambridge University astrophysicist, Sir Martin Rees, only gives humanity a 50/50 chance of making it into the next century. There’s a lot of near earth objects we don’t know about.

Living is not safe and we could all be wiped out tomorrow. Then again, we probably won’t be. The thing is to embrace life by working to improve things for the next generation.

Instead of buying into the negativity and fear that we must atone and regress to a lesser state, let’s adapt, evolve and grow. Let’s be resilient.

And guess what? We all use the environment every moment of every day but sections of society seem to be in denial about that fact.

After all, the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones!

Thank you.

AgResearch makes specific application to ERMA to permit GM ruminant research

6 November 2009

AgResearch makes specific application to ERMA to permit GM ruminant research

AgResearch has submitted a limited application to ERMA for specific research using genetically modified goats, sheep and cattle in containment. This is necessary so that AgResearch can meet contractual requirements.

In 2008 AgResearch applied to ERMA for four new approvals to continue the transgenic livestock programme for a number of species and a range of activities, from pure scientific research, to maintaining transgenic animals in containment for the production of speciality milks or milk products (e.g. lactoferrin), and the production of biopharmaceutical proteins. These four applications are currently held up by legal action.

This new application is restricted to existing facilities at AgResearch Ltd’s Ruakura campus in Hamilton and does not seek approval for commercial production.


Kids and calves and Mums too

Well they say there is nothing better than family getting involved with the kids and the animals. And Calf Club this year truly was a family affair. Amy got involved this year for the first time with two of her gorgeous children. We had a ball to be truthful and all the kids learned something. They all did very well this year too. All had a ribbon or two for their hard work and effort. Over six weeks I ended up with a multitude of digital images. Great memories and captured moment. We wouldn't ever get this stuff in the urban areas. I love farming life - it's excellent.

1,075,000 New Zealanders want rural broadband ‘fair go’

5 November 2009

1,075,000 New Zealanders want rural broadband ‘fair go’

Federated Farmers is challenging the Government to show more ambition on the rollout of broadband to one quarter of New Zealand. The Federation believes rural broadband is necessary for rural New Zealand’s economic competitiveness and social connectivity.

“The next few months will determine what happens for decades to come, so we’ve got to get this right for urban and rural alike,” says Donald Aubrey, Federated Farmers spokesperson on telecommunications.

“The Government has $1.5 billion to rollout broadband to three-quarters of New Zealand. That’ll be the 75 percent who already have access to broadband, leaving 1,075,000 New Zealanders with just $48 million of direct Government funding.

“While the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative now proposes an additional $252 million over the next six years from an industry levy, this investment level is still not high enough.

“Put simply, 1,075,000 New Zealanders are being short-changed by $200 million. This much is needed to make rural broadband funding equal to that promised for urban New Zealand.

“Government funding must be targeted at where the market has failed. That’s not in our cities and larger towns but in the rural 25 percent of New Zealand.

“Government is not being ambitious or visionary enough about the prospect of rural broadband. There’s a mass of opportunities to take the rural and national economy forward in a 100 year solution. There are applications to come we can only dream of today.

“Rural New Zealand produces over 64 percent of our export dollars and our greatest inventors like Sir Bill Hamilton and Lord Rutherford share a rural background. Broadband isn’t the ability to download an MP3 track in a few seconds but ought to be about gains in productivity, innovation and community.

“It’s vital rural New Zealand has access to ultra fast broadband enabled education, health and social solutions. We don’t want a two-tier society and need to close-up perceived ‘rural isolation’ so that people from non-farming backgrounds view rural industries as a valid career choice.

“To that end, we’ve urged the Government to either make the $1.5 billion urban broadband proportionate to all New Zealanders or increase the proposed Telecommunication Development Levy.

“Increasing the proposed levy from $50 million per annum to at least what is raised by the current Telecommunications Service Obligation raises, for example, $80 million a year.

“Over six years that increases the total amount available for rural broadband to $480 million and close to the magic $500 million mark each quarter of urban New Zealand will get.

“Federated Farmers has been working for some months with Government to develop and demonstrate practical, innovative solutions. Our focus is on making a significant step change in rural New Zealand over a relatively short timeframe.

“We’re very keen to continue working with the Government and to use the brawn and brains of 1,075,000 New Zealanders to get the best solutions for generations to come.

“Federated Farmers knows broadband isn’t straightforward but our country wasn’t built by people who said ‘can’t’ but by those who said ‘can’. Economic transformation won’t be achieved by acceptable measures but by extraordinary leadership that sets our country on a path back up the OECD ladder,” Mr Aubrey concluded.

The Federated Farmers submissions can be accessed by clicking the following links:

· Rural broadband initiative

· TSO reform and funding telecommunications development

A little bit of farming fun in pictures

NO! I shall not remove myself from this position your honour!

Your evil plans were foiled again....

I don't care if it's a finger okay?

Right see there? That's where you start kid.

Zee Tail is held like so!

Early spring late afternoon at a Northland Dairy Farm

Hosing off the yards after milking.

Yes we know what you are. Cute and furry and very destructive. One Australian Brushtail Possum also referred to as Rotten Marsupial Sod. He's just a young fella!

Hmm where is that little rascal then?


Federated Farmers to action Coroner’s recommendation

4 November 2009

Federated Farmers to action Coroner’s recommendation

Following the recommendation of Coroner Tim Scott, Federated Farmers has issued a member advisory on all terrain vehicle quad bike safety.

“Farmers throughout New Zealand pay their condolences to the family of Lucinda Couchman, who tragically lost her life in a quad bike accident. If Lucinda’s death rams home how vital and real quad bike safety is, then something positive will have come out of this tragedy,” says Donald Aubrey, Federated Farmers Health & Safety spokesperson.

“Quad bike safety is currently before the Agricultural Health and Safety Council (Council), which I chair. I also had no hesitation in ordering a member advisory be sent out to all members of Federated Farmers.

“Given the importance of safety, this advisory will be available to non-members of Federated Farmers. I would especially encourage small farmers and lifestyle block owners to make themselves familiar with it too and it can be obtained by calling 0800 FARMING (0800 327 646).

“Both the Council and Federated Farmers are concerned at the accident rate associated with quad bikes and are looking at measures to address some of the Coroner’s recommendations.

“The most important thing, as this tragedy reaffirms, is the wearing of helmets. Farmers must lead by example and drill this into their workers and contractors. Helmets provide indisputable protection of the brain.

“Yet there are some aspects of the Coroner’s recommendation, such as Roll-Over Protection Structures (ROPS) and safety harnesses, which would be impractical to implement.

“Quad bikes replaced two-wheeled motorbikes as the working bike of choice given their capacity to carry things – whether a working dog or cargo.

“Yet using a quad bike means you are on and off it continuously. A harness will not be used if farmers are moving only a few metres around a paddock but that’s where the risk lies.

“Similarly with roll cages, the evidence isn’t clear that ROPS would improve safety and may very well pose practical and safety issues of its own.

“A big issue Federated Farmers and the Council needs to overcome is the voiding of quad bike warranties, given all current concepts before us are aftermarket additions. The bike manufacturers need to be open-minded and communicative because regulation isn’t the answer either.

“Regulation could see farmers revert to using two-wheeled bikes or putting 4WD vehicles into situations beyond design limits. Until we’ve got a workable solution, the primary thing farmers can do is to ensure all operators understand quad bike safety and are trained accordingly. The biggest thing is to instil the wearing of safety helmets as a firm part of farm culture,” Mr Aubrey concluded.

Frozen Moments tell a story

Two little friends wonder if they're going to get the big prize for their section at the 2009 Maungaturoto Pet Day

A talk to my close friend of over 30 years Lisa the other night raised a really fascinating subject. While in Karangahape Rd in Auckland City very recently, Lisa happened upon a shop that was (amongst all its other interesting bits and pieces) - selling old photographs. These old photos had come from dismantled family photograph albums. Some went home with Lisa.

Lisa kindly emailed me scans of three of those images. One was of Mangaraho Rock taken sometime in the earlier park of the 20th Century showing a side view and the back part of the volcanic rock that still dominates the landscape of the Northern Wairoa today. Two others were of a function with a man, in one of the images, that strongly resembles Joseph Gordon Coates -who was our first New Zealand born minister. Joseph Coates was born at Hukatere near where I live. The image itself is an amazing capture of people taking a break during an event or watching something, on the platform looking on speech notes in hand - is the man who could well be Joseph Gordon Coates. In the foreground a lady in a hat with the midground filled in by different characters - the expressions are priceless. The shot was taken through the attendance goers. A frozen story which we don't have the words for. What we do know it was (possibly) an important event. When and where? That we don't know. Check out these incredible images here along with the links for the information about Joseph Gordon Coates and Mangaraho Rock.

Huge sunfish thrown up on beach at Awatuna, near Hokitika, ca 1910

Take this image for instance two puffed up figures photographed with a washed up Sunfish on a beach. This one does have a story. The year quoted on the information on the Flickr Commons site where I obtained this public domain image from is CA 1910. So I went and did some searching to see if there was a newspaper story contemporary with the image. Yes indeed I did find a reference to a sunfish washing up at Awatuna from 1908 not 1910. Revealed in an article from the Grey River Argus 25 November 1908 I found this story that matched the image perfectly.

Mr Rionx who is employed at the Dominion Gold and Iron Sand claim at Awatuna came across a large Sunfish stranded on the beach about a quarter mile below the Awatuna Railway Station. The fish measures 14 feet across and 12 feet in length, and weight over 2 tons. Mr Rionx informed our representative that he intended forwarding the fish to Christchurch where he has been offered a good price for it. Large numbers journeyed out to view the monster yesterday afternoon and Mr Rionx has decided to exhibit it before disposing of it. As there is a midday train today no doubt, a large number will take the opportunity of viewing it.


Photographer: James Ring
Huge sunfish thrown up on beach at Awatuna, near Hokitika, ca 1910
Dry plate glass negative
Reference No. 1/2-179310-G
Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand
Tommy the Turtle and Captain D. Mitchelson

This image is a reminder of times when even the small things mattered including the little turtle mascot photographed with Captain D. Mitchelson. Another story I couldn't find the words to go with. At this stage I can't find any records for a "Captain D Mitchelson" but this image is a great reminder of events that took place. According to the information below this image was taken during the British Mandate of Palestine. The date taken was 28 March 1940. Sourced from Flickr The Commons"
ID Number: 001117
Maker: Parer, Damien Peter
Place made: British Mandate of Palestine: Palestine, Julis
Date made: 28 March 1940
Physical description: Black & white
Copyright: Copyright expired - public domain
Related subject: Mascots
Related unit: 2/2 Battalion
Related conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Woman milking a cow with an elephants' head. April Fools' joke in magazine Het Leven, 1932.

This one in particular made me laugh. No story as such - just an April fool's joke and an excellent example of early photo editing. This is very clever and very well done for its time.

My Mum was throwing out photos - I rescued a few of them. I don't know who the people are, nor when the photos were taken. Mum can't recall either. I have my own photos here that I can't recall where or when they were taken. I'm shaking my head on that one. I decided to use the digital camera to photograph each image I have - so if the originals fall apart in many years time or are lost the digital copies remain. I've found photographing photographs turns out far better than scanning them.
But there's one image here that I won't ever forget. She's the reason why I started this blog. And there she is at 13 days old having a bottle. The Terrorist is now 15 months old and rather larger than this little tiny jersey calf my friend Gillian turned up with last year. And doubt that anytime soon the Terrorist will let me forget I was her Mum for nearly 9 long months. Spoilt little toad.


EBOP loses trust and alienates farmers over inspections fiasco

3 November 2009

EBOP loses trust and alienates farmers over inspections fiasco

Far from being cowed by Environment Bay of Plenty (EBOP), Rotorua’s dairy farmers have rounded on the Regional Council, slating its selective disclosure of the facts relating to a dairy farm compliance press release last week.

“If I were an urban resident of Rotorua, I’d take EBOP’s propaganda at face value and say ‘there go those farmers again’. It seems to have worked on Maori Party MP, Te Ururoa Flavell, who has taken EBOP’s propaganda hook, line and sinker,” says Neil Heather, Federated Farmers Rotorua provincial president who is a sheep and beef farmer.

“Rotorua is our lake and our environment too, but EBOP’s policy making by press release isn’t the way to get action. If the Council saw there was a problem then my number and that of my dairy chairperson is in the white pages as well as on the Federated Farmers website.

“If EBOP worked with Federated Farmers rather than against us, we could have easily convened a meeting to galvanise farmers but no call came. Farmers want to get to the bottom of what must sound to urban residents, unacceptable dirty-dairying. I wish to assure Rotorua that all farmers do give a damn and EBOP has been more than selective with the facts.

“Yes, an initial inspection showed half the farms had issues, but re-inspection of those 16 farms on 1 September, 6 October, 19 October and the final farm yesterday, 2 November, showed that all but four were compliant.

“Yet the Regional Council released its media release on 29 October based solely on the initial inspection. The Council knew full well by then that the 15 re-inspections conducted showed a strong trend line towards compliance.

“The reality is that 28 of the 32 dairy farms (87.5 percent) comply with their consent conditions.

“It also speaks volumes that while we’ve asked for an urgent meeting to get to the bottom of this, the Regional Council is yet to give us a date. The 87.5 percent compliance rate is far from the shrill release the Council issued last week. That tells me there’s a lot more to this.

“As a non-dairy farmer that grates with me, really grates with me. It speaks volumes about EBOP’s supposed ‘community engagement’ as farmers as dairy farmers pay for these inspections under user-pays.

“While the real compliance figure is 87.5 percent, I do not feel that’s good enough and my dairy farmers have to do better. That said, it’s a hell of a lot better than the shocking 50 percent figure used by the Regional Council last week.

“It doesn’t impress me that my team has had to dig like hell to get these re-inspection figures too. In fact, I only got the final piece of the jigsaw at 4.15pm yesterday because the Regional Council has been somewhat less than forthcoming.

“There was something fishy when the Regional Council issued its media release last week as dairy farms were near to 100 percent compliant last year. Either we became environmental vandals overnight or without telling us, the Regional Council is interpreting rules in a completely new way.

“I’m glad the chairperson of Federated Farmers Dairy, Lachlan McKenzie, has email proof that the Regional Council is interpreting rules differently. The Regional Council never showed us the courtesy of sharing this interpretation before the inspectors pitched up.

“Clearly dairy farmers and all farmers are sick of regional councils moving the goalposts. Maybe it’s time to have a debate on nationally consistent rules as this would help prevent EBOP’s underhanded reporting of dairy inspections,” Mr Heather concluded.


3 November 2009


Fonterra Chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden is guest speaker at the first of 12 special events to officially launch the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards regional competitions.

National Convenor Chris Keeping says the organising committee is pleased Sir Henry has accepted an invitation to speak at the Auckland Hauraki regional launch on a farm near Pokeno this Thursday (November 5).

Entries in the 2010 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards, incorporating the Sharemilker of the Year, Farm Manager of the Year and Dairy Trainee of the Year, opened on November 1.

“Sir Henry’s attendance is a reflection in the way both he and Fonterra support the awards and their recognition of the awards as an important way to identify talented up-and-coming dairy farmers and future industry leaders.

“Our awards are integral to identifying excellence and promoting best practice among dairy farmers – as well as helping to provide an opportunity for passionate and aspiring farmers to progress their career through recognition and reward.”

Ms Keeping says awards entrants enter one of the 12 regional competitions, with all regional winners progressing to a national final to be held in Rotorua in May next year. Along the way they will compete for cash and prizes worth more than $700,000 nationwide.

The Auckland Hauraki regional launch is the first and has its own theme, Pathways to Success. It is being held on a Mangatangi farm near Pokeno, south of Auckland.

Other launches are being held in a new farm dairy, a robotic dairy, a research farm, at LIC’s headquarters, at an A&P Show, on dairy farms, in a golf club and in country pubs.

The Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors Westpac, DairyNZ, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda Motorcycles NZ, LIC, Meridian Energy, Ravensdown and RD1, along with industry partner Agriculture ITO.

Entries open on November 1 and will close on December 24. Entry forms can be downloaded at www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz.


Trade Minister to address Meat & Fibre farmers on Wednesday

2 November 2009

Trade Minister to address Meat & Fibre farmers on Wednesday

Minister of Trade, the Hon Tim Groser, is set to address Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre council meeting in Methven on Wednesday, 4 November.

Minister Groser will speak at the Methven Resort, where he will examine the implications for farmers of the international situation around climate change. He also plans to outline his thoughts on the long-term challenges facing New Zealand's farmers in the global market place.

“This is a great opportunity for the farming community to find out about this hugely important issue,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre chairperson.

“Minister Groser brings a wealth of international experience to the debate around climate change and trade and the implications and opportunities for farming businesses. The decisions made in these areas over the next few years will play a key role in the future profitability of farming.

“Not only will Minister Groser deliver a significant speech about the implications of climate change on agricultural trade developments, but he will also take questions from the floor.

“We certainly anticipate a frank and open discussion as the confluence of climate change and trade present some huge challenges for all farmers.

“Sustainable farming businesses are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy. We need international frameworks for climate change and trade that will back us to perform competitively on the world stage and not break the back of farming,“ Mr Wills concluded.

Minister Groser will speak from 1.15pm to 1.45pm, with a question and answer session from 1.45pm to 2.15pm.


Notes from the Land of Gonzo - I hate being Autistic

Those are the words I heard on Friday from Michelle after she had come home from school. She had been bullied and called a retard by some kids at school. Kids do that. They torment each other, call each other names - it is right? Of course it isn't - but like or not bullying is part of growing up. I let Michelle tell me about the nasty kids that were calling her names. That's the point she was telling me about it. Capable of expressing her anger and telling me she hated having Autism. Yes I know where she is coming from there. I have my own battles at times with my ASD when it decides I should be a wierdo for a day or two (or months!) - oh no it won't be. Usually I find that happens to me when I'm under a great deal of stress. I'll shut myself down for a few days (or months) - and go into one of those damned Autistic cycles I talked about in my last Notes post.

Michelle is just a little girl of ten and yet she is recognising and able to express her emotions. I remember the long long repetitive months of drawing happy face, mad face and sad face and explaining with different pictures cut out of magazines what the person in the picture was feeling. Hard work has paid off - but now Michelle faces a different challenge. Next year she will attend Otamatea High School - that will be tough. Yet another change. I've deliberately over the years thrown Michelle into all kinds of different situations. Sometimes she would completely lose it - but I would make her stay there. Sounds wrong, hard and cruel - but protecting her from the world will not help Michelle cope with different situations as an adult.

I remember her fear of the vacuum cleaner. She used to call it the monster and go and hide in the wardrobe. One day I decided to get Michelle to stand with me and hold 'the monster' and then she had control. It took a few sessions but in the end I cured Michelle of that fear. I have my own concerns about Michelle attending the High School. She has missed out for an entire year on any help from Special Education because she is doing too well. That somehow seems wrong to me - she needs that support and instead she is being penalised because her mother cared enough to bother seeing if she could help her youngest child overcome rather than put up with her Autism. We have an entire family worth of wierdos - Mum included. Genetics saw to that.

My kids are bright, highly intelligent and affected in varying degrees by ASD. My two elder girls while not diagnosed exhibit typical Asperger's traits. Inaya is overall bright, well adjusted but she suffers from some co-ordination issues, the grasping of some concepts and also suffers from severe depression. With her father remarrying a few years ago - it also meant a new step sister the same age. Unfortunately the step sister wasn't exactly the perfect sister at all. She bullied Inaya over a long term period and over time I noticed my happy bubbly girl was no longer happy. I had her in therapy for two years and Michelle as well. Michelle is still having therapy and I'm having my challenges with her over changing her clothes and brushing her hair each day. Not easy but I make her do it ASD or no ASD there is no excuse. And that's the thing. Regardless kids have to do those things and they have to learn to do things for themselves. ASD kids are all wonderful unique individuals and each and every one of them has the potential to be an incredible human being regardless of their apparent 'disadvantages'. Yes we know it's for life - so what? Yes it can be overcome - no it can't be 'cured' and it's a gift as well. I think a lot of those I know who have kids with ASD or have it themselves would agree there. But life? We can't protect ourselves or our kids forever from the world. The world won't be going away any time soon and out there are cruel heartless people. Learning to deal with them takes time and experience - but it's also a wonderful place too. Just a word of advice introduce your kids and yourself to the world even if it's very slowly - as parents we owe it to ourselves and to our kids to do that. Hiding away is never a solution - go on give it a try.