Siblings together

We’ll probably never know for sure, but Shona suspects that her little brother, Roderick, might be the oldest person with Down syndrome in Aotearoa. Shona was two when Roderick was born, and the two have now been blessed with 75 years (and counting) of a loving sibling relationship which has helped shape the lives of many other families as well as their own, through the pioneering work of Hōhepa, which came about because of Roderick’s birth.

Shona and Roderick Stronach were born in the 1940s, and spent their early years with their parents and older twin sisters, Marian and Marjorie, on the wild and rugged Highcliff area of the Otago Peninsula, where the family had a clifftop farm. Shona only has vague memories of Roderick crawling along the passageways of that home, as both were still quite small when the family relocated to the gentler vicinity of Tomohawk Lagoon. 

“We bordered that lagoon and we had a wonderful life,” Shona recalls. “And of course there are a lot of stories about Roderick’s adventures there! He was a great one to run away. Once, we couldn’t find him and our mother found him right down the bottom of the next-door paddock – he was under the legs of a bull!”

It was a large family home, and Shona and Roderick spent much of their time playing together there. 

“We had this big veranda and we had this four-wheel jigger thing that I used to push him in. We created ghost trains and things like that,” Shona laughed as she recalled these early years together. “I was obviously a fairly helpful caregiver in terms of entertainment! Those were lovely memories.”

Shona can’t recall any negative attitudes towards Roderick – only the care of the neighbours. She also can’t remember her parents discussing the fact that Roderick had Down syndrome with her, or that she had much consciousness of it at all until the age of about 12.

“I do remember at early adolescence being self-conscious and realising he was different, and having to really grow to accommodate that over, maybe two or three years coming to terms with it.”

From his youngest years, Roderick possessed a friendly, warm, and radiant nature. “At family picnics you’d look around and say ‘Where’s Roderick?’ and he’d be off with the next group saying “I know you!” That’s lasted his lifetime those words – ‘I know you!’ – and that lovely friendliness and warmth.”

At that time, integrated or mainstream schooling weren’t options for Roderick, and so from the ages of seven to about ten, he attended Sarah Cohen School in Dunedin, a school established for pupils with special needs in 1926 that is still going strong today. Roderick was not academic, and though he learned some letters there he never became fully literate. 

In the background of the family’s lives, since the time of Roderick’s birth, their aunt, Marjorie Allan, had been pursuing ambitious goals that were inspired by her new nephew. At the time, Marjorie was overseas in London studying the work of Rudolph Steiner. When Roderick came along, she decided to move into training for therapeutic education and social therapy for people with intellectual disabilities based on Rudolph Steiner.  

Waipatiki picnic

“When Roderick was born she came back to meet him, then she returned to Europe and trained in the various Rudolph Steiner curative and therapeutic homes and schools where that work was developed and gathered up as much experience as she could. And then in 1956 she came back and toured New Zealand and lectured about the work, needing funds of course. When she was in Hawke’s Bay, a farmer called Lew Harris who had an intellectually disabled daughter, came forward and really wanted to help with the work, and was a really generous benefactor and donor.”

Thanks to Lew Harris (later Sir Harris), in 1957 the very first Hōhepa building was erected in Poraiti in the Hawke’s Bay, and became a residential school, initially for only nine children. One year later, a ten-year-old Roderick joined Hōhepa. After a short time in the school, he moved on to the newly acquired farm property in Clive, where he was to spend the next six decades of his life. 

Two years after Roderick made the move to Hawke’s Bay, Shona and her mother followed, their father having passed away. 

“My mother, Mary Stronach, took on the management and care of the house with the children and that freed up my aunt to concentrate on the valuable teaching and therapeutic work. My mother had a very important role holding the whole management together in terms of practicalities. She was good value! I went to Napier Girls High School but I lived there [at Hōhepa]. So it was an interesting time!” 

By this stage there were about 24 children, living in dormitories of six to eight, each cared for by women known as ‘dormitory mothers’. Though he was now living at the farm in Clive, Shona and her mother were thrilled to be reunited with both Roderick and Marjorie.

“You have your own life too by that age, so it was an interesting transition, but I was always very grateful for what I learned and received through Hōhepa. As a teenager you don’t always recognise it at the time! But I mean really it was wonderful. I got a chance to be one of the dormitory mothers on the weekend and I began to take responsibility which is good for teenagers.”

Once at the farm, Roderick initially lived at the main house and underwent some transitional schooling, alongside craft work, music, and therapies. At the beginning of his teens, he went to live at Anyon House, one of several small houses for around half a dozen residents at a time. At about this time, his mother and aunt purchased a beach house at Waipatiki that was to become a second home for the family.

“We’d all be there for weekends or holidays and my sisters would come down too. So this beach at Waipatiki was very special and a lot of the people who worked at Hōhepa shared that as well.”

Over the next sixty years, Roderick moved through various stages of life at the farm, always directed by his preferences and aspirations.

“He moved himself through his life stages at the farm, he was a farmer and a gardener, and used to get the milk and work the cows. Then he moved into the workshops and did woodwork and then there was the copper workshop. Each time he would let people know he wanted to move on.”

Highcliff farm

As he got older, Roderick struggled with the noise of the copper workshops, having never liked loud sounds. He chose to move on to the candle workshop, before eventually selecting what he termed ‘Quiet Care’ – the retirement home section of the Hōhepa community where he still lives. Though he has many interests, two in particular stand out to Shona that he’s been able to enjoy more, once moving into retirement.

“He carries an enormous interest of the officialdom of all the meetings that he’d been to with my aunt and the Trust Board and conferences. That was in him, and he’d take his bundles of papers and do his office work. In 2018, he was given honorary life membership to the Hōhepa Homes Trust Board.”

The other great love of Roderick’s life has been classical music – unsurprising when considering both his mother and aunt began their careers as music teachers before the Hōhepa journey began.

“He always wanted to be a conductor, if there were any musicians around or bands at the fair or anything, he would be up there conducting and he was good too. Music was one of his real loves and he still has that.”

Now an “elderly and distinguished gentleman”, for the past year or so, Roderick has been unable to weight bear, and prefers to spend most of his time in his room. “But he’s still very present. I was there last week and we had such a good time – the cat had got up on the arm of his chair and was determined to interject in our conversations. It was lovely, Roderick was right on the ball. But then the next day he was just so tired.”

Although less physically capable, Roderick’s mind is unaffected by dementia, and he retains the ability to “just radiate” that Shona recalls characterising him from his infancy.

“He never had any shyness. He would just go up to people. His “I know you”, that was to strangers, but people he knew he would say ‘Are you happy?’ He’s 75 and that’s the main thing that he says now – ‘Are you happy?’. It was like, when you reach out to somebody you’re telling them that you recognise them. So that’s followed him all his life. He has a lot of humour and I think I played up a lot with that too in terms of the fun and the games and the songs, you know. Even now he’s not so capable but he can come up with some incredible humour. He’s got a twinkle in his eye behind what he’s saying.”

Recent chat

Shona lives in Christchurch now, but the siblings have never stopped seeing each other multiple times a year, and their bond is indelibly strong. “When we’re together there’s no barriers between us, we’ve got a good rapport.” 

Just as Roderick’s arrival started her mother and aunt on an extraordinary journey that would ultimately found the beloved Hōhepa organisation, so too was Roderick always a part of Shona’s life pathways.

“As a 5-year-old I announced I wanted to be a children’s nurse when I grew up. And that resolve followed and shaped my career decisions throughout my life. I trained as a nurse and stayed close to the work with children. I lived up in Hawke’s Bay for ten years and for a good six of those I was working as a community nurse at Hōhepa.  I think the care model which surrounded Roderick very much influenced the course of my life.”

Today, Hōhepa has branches in Canterbury, Auckland, and Wellington, as well as the original community in the Hawke’s Bay incorporating both the original school community at Poraiti, and the 50-acre Clive farming and workshop community where Roderick lives. 

“Some might say that Hōhepa is an institution but it’s not. It’s a community of people and wonderful people that come and go from all over the world… The essence of Hōhepa is community and it still is, it’s not institutionalising. I know Hōhepa’s had to work very creatively to retain community but also to be out in the wider community. It has widened its web but it hasn’t lost its community sense.”

It’s a community – and now series of communities – that have made an immense difference to so many lives: residents, students, staff, volunteers, and Trustees, and without Roderick Stronach, who knows if it would have ever come to pass? Shona speaks with an incredible warmth, respect, and love for her mother and aunt, and for the many others who have worked to continue their legacy at Hōhepa. But most of all, her affection shines through when she speaks about her brother.

“I hope I’ve given you a reasonable picture of somebody who is very special.”

 

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Members of the NZDSA are invited to relive the best parts of the Virtual Down Syndrome Conference we hosted in October to celebrate the NZDSA 40th anniversary.

During the conference over 700 individuals and households joined one or more of the 22 events and presentations.

The 34 speakers hosted a staggering 2748 minutes of webinars, Q&A sessions and social gatherings.

Usually, organisations would charge large amounts to be part of such a comprehensive event, but the NZDSA decided to make the conference accessible as possible.

If you or your family enjoyed the conference and gained benefit from the information shared, we would like to ask you to show your appreciation by donating to the NZDSA.

As you can imagine, hosting the conference demanded significant resources from or staff, and we hope you will continue to support the NZDSA to enable us to host more events in the future.

If you missed the conference, the NZDSA has recorded some of the key webinars which are now available to view on our website.

The resources you find on the website are:

The Golden Years: Ageing and Down syndrome

An introduction to the needs of the older person with Down syndrome and how this may affect their health and wellbeing alongside the supports they may need.

Relationships – Theories and Practicalities

This session deals with a variety of issues that face everyone trying to create new relationships, but may be particularly challenging for someone with Down syndrome.

Supported Decision Making – a Human Right

This workshop will help participants to gain a greater understanding of the national and international legal context of Supported Decision Making, who may require decision making support, and the key principles and strategies for extending decision making support

Making visions work

Social skill development for identity across the lifespan.

Early literacy skills for children with Down syndrome – Families making a difference

Fiona will share tips for whānau, based on the latest research, about how whānau can set their child up for literacy success.

Individual Education Plan – The capabilities approach

The capabilities approach to a structured plan to explain, recognise, and deliver on all learning opportunities to fulfill goals and achievement for children and young people with learning disability and Down syndrome.

 

You do not want to miss this.

Make sure you check out the long list of world-leading presenters, who will cover most key topics that may be important to people with Down Syndrome as part of the NZDSA Virtual Down Syndrome Conference.

REGISTER HERE

The NZDSA this month will celebrate its 40th anniversary by hosting the largest Virtual Down Syndrome Conference ever organised in this country, to coincide with World Down Syndrome Month.

The virtual conference will offer a stunning variety of high-profile Kiwi and international expert speakers who will cover a wide range of topics including education, health, speech, relationships, ageing and legal issues.

The conference will have several presentations focused on health with Andrea Simonlehner from Natural Equilibrium doing two sessions on gut health and fussy eaters, while Geraldine Whatnell will share her expertise on growing old with Down syndrome.

One session that will be exciting to parents as well as younger adults with Down syndrome will be relationship expert Dave Hicks talking about the theory and practicalities of getting into a relationship. Dave is likely to become a familiar face on New Zealand television as he was the expert on the upcoming television series Down With Love.

One of the speakers from the United States will be Kavita Krell from Massachusetts General Hospital who will explain how you can develop an innovative online health plan from anywhere in the world, while her colleague Dr Brian Skotko will do a presentation about and for siblings of people with Down syndrome.

REGISTER HERE

The conference will also offer sessions wellbeing, speech therapy, advocacy and educations, so there will be there something for all stages of life and every member of our community.

The conference will also include a number of sessions specifically for people with Down syndrome, so for the full list of those events, please click here (all these sessions are marked in orange below).

The NZDSA has hosted many conferences, seminars and workshops during its history, but geographical and financial restraints often restricted the number of people who were able to attend.

All those barriers have now been removed by modern technology and the new digital skills we have learned during lockdown.

With modern video conferencing technology, there is no reason to miss out so keep an eye on our E-new and Facebook page for upcoming details how to register.

To get all this information, make sure we can send you our newsletters, so please register your details on the NZDSA website FOR FREE, at www.nzdsa.org.nz

Some sessions will be recorded as a future resource, but many others will not, so make sure you do not miss out on the webinars you are interested.

The NZDSA is non-for-profit charity that receives no Government funding and fully depends on grants and donations, so when you register or think the webinars are of value to you and your community, please remember to make a donation, so we can continue to offer these services to raise the awareness and knowledge around Down syndrome.

REGISTER HERE

 

THE FULL PROGRAMME OF THE VIRTUAL DOWN SYNDROME CONFERENCE

Tuesday 5th October, 7pm – 8pm

Bridget Snedden, President of Down Syndrome International(DSi)

Theme: Wellbeing and Rights

Title:  Getting to the good life – The importance of having a vision

Audience:  Everyone

 

Wednesday 6th October, 7pm – 8pm

Dr Mark Sinclair, Private Practice

Theme: Wellbeing

Title: Keeping an Emotional Balance (At home with children and teens)

Audience:   Parents, whānau, professionals – all ages

 

Thursday, 7th October, 7pm – 8pm

Trish Grant, Director of Advocacy IHC

Theme: Education and Rights

Title: Are we there yet?

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals with a focus on school-aged children

 

Saturday, 9th October, 10am – 11am

Sir Robert Martin

Theme: Rights and Wellbeing

Title: From Institution to Knighthood

Audience: Everyone

 

Tuesday, 12th October , 7pm – 8pm

Erika Butters, Director, The Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust

Theme: Rights

Title: Supported Decision Making – a Human Right

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals with a focus on youth and adults

 

Wednesday, 13th October, 7pm – 8pm

Dr Maree Kirk, Director, STPDS NZ

Theme: Education

Title: Individual Education Plan – The capabilities approach

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals with a focus on school-aged children

 

Wednesday, 14th October, 12pm-1pm

Andrea Simonlehner, Natural Equilibrium

Theme: Health

Title: Brain and Gut Health for people with Down syndrome

Please note this session will view the recorded session hosted in September (there will be no Q&A)

It will be beneficial to view this for the session with Andrea on the 27th October

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals – all ages

 

Thursday, 14th October, 7pm – 8pm

Who: Erika Butters, Director, The Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust

Theme: Rights

What: Supported Decision Making – a Human Right. 

Audience: People with Down syndrome

 

Saturday, 16th October, 10am – 11am

Dr Brian Skotko,  Director of the Down Syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital

and Susan Levine, Co-founder and social worker at Family Resource Associates, Inc.

Theme: Siblings 18+

Title: Adult brothers and sisters of siblings with Down syndrome: Exploring past experiences and current roles

Audience: Siblings 18+

 

Tuesday, 19th October,  7pm – 8pm

Fiona Kenworthy, Speech & language therapist

Clinical Director /Small Talk Therapy

Theme: Speech and Language Therapy

Title: Early literacy skills for children with Down syndrome – Families making a difference

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals with a focus on early literacy skills (not age specific)

Hosted by UpsideDowns Education Trust and the NZDSA

 

Wednesday, 20th October, 7pm – 8pm

Dave Hicks, Academic Programme Manager – Unitec

Theme: Wellbeing

Title: Relationships – Theories and Practicalities

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals – all ages

 

Thursday,21st October, 12pm -1pm

Gretchen A. Good, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, Massey University and Jane Lee, MSW, Tutor in Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, Massey University

Theme: Wellbeing and Rights

Title: Parenting during a pandemic:  Have any lessons been learned?

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals – all ages

 

Thursday 21st October, 7pm – 8pm

Who: Dr Mark Sinclair, Private Practice

What:  Managing your feelings

Audience: People with Down syndrome

 

Saturday, 23rd October, 10am – 11am

Kavita Krell, Director of Customer Experience for Down Syndrome Clinic to You (DSC2U)

Theme: Health

Title: DSC2U: An online personal care plan for caregivers and primary care physicians

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals  – all ages

 

Tuesday, 26th October, 7pm – 8pm

Andrea Simonlehner, Natural Equilibrium

Theme: Health

Title: Fussy Eaters

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals – relevant for all ages

 

Wednesday, 27th October, 7pm – 8pm

Geraldine (Dina) Whatnell, Nurse Practitioner Mental Health and Addictions Service Palmerston North Hospital

Theme: Health

Title: The Golden Years: Ageing and Down Syndrome

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals – focus on adults who are 25+

 

Thursday, 28th October, 7pm – 8pm

Who: Libby Hunsdale, Michael Holdsworth, Rochelle Waters, Amelia Eades, Luka Willems, Lily Harper, Carlos Biggemann, Bradley Lewis, Jacob Dombroski, Alfie Linn

What: Meet the Stars!

Audience: People with Down syndrome, but others are welcome to join

 

Saturday, 30th October, 10am – 11am

Dr Maree Kirk, Director, STPDS NZ

Theme: Education/Wellbeing

Title: Making visions work – Social skill development for identity across the lifespan

Audience: Parents, whānau, professionals with a focus on school-aged children

 

UpsideDowns, New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, and Small Talk Therapy, are proud to bring you this free webinar on speech and language therapy for children and young people with Down syndrome.

Are you looking for ways to support your child’s speech during lockdown?

Are you new to speech and language therapy?

Have you been engaging with speech and language therapy for a long time but are looking for new ways to engage with your child’s communication journey?

Are you frustrated or confused by what public speech therapy is being provided? Are you keen to start with speech and language therapy but don’t know where to begin?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then this webinar is for you!

Fiona Kenworthy, a specialist in speech and language therapy for children with Down syndrome, Sarah Paterson-Hamlin, CEO of UpsideDowns, and Zandra Vaccarino, National Executive Officer of the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association, are answering questions from over 100 families, followed by a brief presentation by Fiona on some tips and tricks for lockdown SLT.

 

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