by Ethan Erlandson 2014
Inspirational True Story
Thank you Ethan for blessing so many children and their families, including my son.
My world was changed by a boy with no words.
I was born with amazing gifts. I walked at eight months old, talked before I was a year old, could skate by two, and had noticeable mathematical aptitude before I started school. I have always had phenomenal athletic ability. I instantly excelled on the baseball field, basketball court, golf course, and hockey arena. My family cheered me on to victories and championships! I have always made friends easily, and would be considered one of the more popular kids in school by most. I was gifted with a remarkable musical ability. I was first chair in band, play several instruments by ear and sing impressively. I gleamed on the stage in lead roles in musicals. These were the things that were important to me; my abilities. This is what I thrived on!
When Austin entered my life, my entire outlook on life changed. I have been volunteering with special needs kids for several years at school, in Special Olympics and camp, but I hadn’t had exposure to somebody as severe as Austin. The kids that I had paired with before as a big buddy and mentor were mostly kids with downs syndrome and other limiting challenges, but all had the ability to express themselves and be mobile. Austin however, is different. He is wheelchair dependent, unable to articulate words, and powerless to connect with anyone because he was nearly void of emotion and interaction capability. I began visiting with him several times a day at school and bringing my lunch to eat with him. To his teacher’s surprise, Austin began to recognize and respond to me. Within days he was smiling and excited when I walked in! I began spending time with his family, taking him out to lunch with his father and even going bowling! Eventually his dad agreed to bring him to a football game with me despite his fear that Austin would be unable to cope with the noise. To his amazement Austin sat through the entire game happy and smiling!
Austin had never had a friend to hang out with. He had never been to lunch or to a football game. Not only had I become his friend, I was his first friend.
I don’t know why I was gifted with all of the ability and talent that I have. I don’t know why Austin was handed the challenges that he has. I do know however, that this connection with Austin has entirely replaced the importance I placed on my own abilities. It has become apparent to me now that even with all of the ability, wealth, belongings, and status that life could offer a person, the best possession one could hope for is true human connection.
Because of Austin, the boy who changed my world without a single word, it has become my passion to develop a Best Buddies program in college and initiate this program in local schools. I had the opportunity this past year to meet with the administration at a local college about the benefits of initiating Best Buddies at their campus, and realized that there are so many schools that do not have knowledge of how beneficial and enriching such a program could be. I have decided that while I am in college, I would like not only to spend my time furthering my education to become a special education educator, but also creating more human connection by meeting with school administrators and educators to assist them in establishing Best Buddies in their schools as well.
Best Buddies began for me as a way to enhance the life of another, but in the end, the most amazing thing happened. My life was the one that was improved.
Thank you Austin, you changed my world, and it is a better place.