An inspiring Hamilton teen who overcame severe autism to graduate high school was last night presented with a Prime Minister’s award for young people who have excelled in care.
At 18, Connor Bell has so much in front of him, but his journey to this point is nothing short of inspirational.
With severe autism and ADHD that saw him take Ritalin from the age of three to try and control some of his behaviour, Connor’s mum admits he was “a challenge and a half”.
Despite the odds stacked against him, Connor had a goal to be normal.
"I had a lifegoal and I never doubted myself,” he said.
'"Everyone that says you can't do it, don't believe them because you can."
For Connor, normal equates to becoming a licensed driver last week after graduating from Hamilton Boys' High with NCEA level 3 in November.
"Level three, no help, no teacher aid, incredible," his proud foster mum Carolein said.
This evening he's accepting a Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki award for young people who've excelled after being taken into care.
"Nobody was expected he was going to be out of a special needs class and that really is astonishing,” his foster dad said.
Connor’s foster parents Carolein and Ray opened their home to a veritable tearaway when he was three-and-a-half.
"He just ran and ran over the couch, over the table, everywhere, such a busy little lad,” Carolein explained.
“Nothing was coming out of his mouth, when he fell over, he wouldn't cry, he wouldn't laugh, he wouldn't smile."
Val Jones was Connor's first teacher in a class for new entrants with extra needs.
"We just took it carefully, very carefully until you were comfortable,” Jones said.
"Look at you balancing bean bags on your head, growing in confidence and the ability to try new things, smiling away, you certainly are."
From humble beginnings, Ms Jones now sees a “young man full of confidence and a belief in his own abilities”, which is more than a teacher could ask for.
"She [Mrs Jones] was encouraging, kept me on task,” said Connor, readily admitting he needed it.
With the reassurance of inclusiveness, there came early signs of expression from Connor.
"The first time he hurt himself and cried, we danced, we did because he was showing proper emotion. It was cool,” dad Ray said.
Then came the joyous moment of singing in the bath.
"All of a sudden we heard him singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," mum Carolein recalls.
“We were just standing in the hallway going, 'He's singing,' and he sang every word and it was perfect and there was joy in his voice.
“From that moment we knew it was in him, he had the words, he had the capability."
"One night I just had the urge to sing in the bath,” Connor said.
The focus last night was a trade scholarship to pursue his dream of becoming an electrician.
"They saw something in me when no one else could, made sure I kept working, working hard," a grateful Connor said.
"Thanks, Mum and Dad, for everything you have done, really appreciate it."
Dad Ray hopes their story gives people hope.
“There is hope and never give up - keep going even when it hurts."