Young, autistic singer inspired to continue famous uncle's musical legacy
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Caleb Teka (Ngāi Tūhoe), a 21-year-old student at Rotorua Specialist School, dreams of pursuing a career in music, following in the footsteps of his famous uncle.
Living with autism, Teka is a promising singer who says he is inspired by his famed relative, the late Kiwi musician Prince Tui Teka.
“Music makes me happy and gives me a sense of freedom,” he says.
He is keen to produce contemporary music, including rap, and says music brings him solace and meaning.
Teka is in his final year at the school, which has a roll of 93 and is committed to fostering student acceptance and growth, says principal Sherie Collins.
“We provide opportunities for all to grow in confidence and experience, a place where our students feel safety, value and understanding.”
The school offers programmes and trips that assist students in developing independence, including regular work experience. They will also be taking part in a kapa haka festival for special needs schools, having previously performed in the Rotorua secondary schools’ kapa haka competitions to “rapturous applause”, says Collins.
Four other special needs schools from around the region will be performing on June 20 at Goldfields Specialist School, in Paeroa. Teka says he’s excited about the event and the opportunity to be on stage, which he loves.
“As a leader, I’m looking forward to representing Rotorua Specialist School.”
Reflecting on his journey, Caleb acknowledges the challenges he faced while attending a mainstream school. He credits his current school for providing the necessary support and creating an environment where he can thrive.
“What stopped me from what I do now was because I was in a mainstream class. I wasn’t in the class I am now. I was in with the normal kids doing normal things, and some tables separated me from others.”
He also says anger held him back but he found a positive outlet in boxing and the guidance of a dedicated teacher, Nicky Monson.
“The only way for me to get rid of it [the anger] was when the school told me to keep it under control or take it out on the boxing bag, which I’ve been doing since.
“Nicky was stubborn. She didn’t go; she didn’t leave me.”
Looking ahead, Teka says he has his sights set on becoming a teacher aide at a specialist school, as well as his continuing to make music.
Another student, Brayden Dunthorne, 21, lives with ADHD, dyslexia and autism.
Dunthorne, a content creator and a fan of anime, is also in his last year at the school and credits it with helping him to overcome his struggles.
“I have trouble with focusing and trying to read, so they (teachers) helped me, and now I’m getting better at reading. I love my teachers.”
He plans to go to Japan, create comic books (manga), and pursue his Twitch - a livestreaming platform - career.
Collins says the school is committed to ensuring students strive to be the best they can become, “but there is still a need for more venues/opportunities for our 21-year-olds to participate in.”
Hero Image: Caleb Teka dreams of following in his famous grandfather's steps. Photo / William Sangster