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Cave man

A year ago, Daniel Sangster couldn’t leave his house – now he’s travelling from New Plymouth to Waikato and living life a little more how he’d like.



14-year-old Daniel hasn’t had an easy childhood, or a typical one. He lives a “lonely and isolated” life, mainly because society isn’t well equipped to accommodate kids like him.


“He struggles a lot with overstimulation and anxiety,” explains his mum Jenny. “There’s lots that he’d love to do, but unfortunately he can’t cope with situations that a lot of us take for granted.”


At one point, he couldn’t even leave the house; he also had to be pulled out of school, because he couldn’t function in that environment.


“He was reading novels by the time he was six and, even though he was academically ahead of people his age, he couldn’t cope with the pressure, the size of the classrooms or the conformity. He has complex autistic needs and, although the school meant well, his requirements were beyond them.”


On the up


Understandably, that had a detrimental impact on Daniel mental health, which still affects him today.

“He’s got a lot of internalised guilt, poor self-worth and self-doubt. He is in therapy to work through that, as well as some other things that impact him,” says Jenny. “Most days are really hard for him. He’s been through a lot of traumatic experiences but his recent progress has made me so proud.”


Just because Daniel doesn’t like crowds doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to enjoy the places where crowds gather. Nobody should have to go through life constantly missing out on doing cool stuff, so that’s where Satan’s Little Helper stepped in – aided by Waitomo Caves.


“Waitomo Caves put on a private tour for three of us – me, Daniel and his brother – which was amazing,” says Jenny. “The guide went out of his way to make it special for Daniel and took extra time to explain bits that Daniel found interesting, which blew his mind.


Feeling confident


“It’s been a huge boost to his confidence. Now he thinks he can do things that other people can , which makes him feel part of society.


“He’s been feeling really fantastic,” says Jenny. “Most days are hard for him, but since we got back from the caves he’s breezed through it. He’s really proud of himself, because he knows he handled it well.


“We’ve made some really good progress in therapy and this trip was the icing on the cake, because he proved to himself that he’s turned a corner.”


It may be baby steps at the moment, but Daniel has high hopes for his future and these milestones are crucial for his development.


“We’re a year on from his worst period, when he couldn’t even leave his bedroom. Now he’s able to leave the house and go on a trip! It makes me so proud and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

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