Who has influenced your life? Why and how?

When I first met Brandon, I’m sure that I was too young to understand autism; but I did know that he was different. At that time, for Brandon at age 4, basic communication was a challenge and his frustration seemed to engulf anyone who attempted to interact with him. His movements and outbursts often scared me and other children and he never seemed to listen to what adults asked him to do. My parents assured me that Brandon, although different, was just another good kid and he needed friends like me. I still have a certain faint memory of Brandon permanently stained into my mind. I see a silhouette of him walking – flailing his arms about in the air with his head jerking while foreign sounds resonated noisily from his mouth. Today, a powerful vignette dominates that faint silhouette when I see Brandon walk through the halls of Suffern High School joking with friends and conversing with our peers.My friendship with Brandon never wavered. Brandon speaks complete sentences now and often tells elaborate and exhausting stories. He participates in sports and many other activities that “normal” kids do. His mom, who for 12 years assured that Brandon had the medical attention as well as educational and emotional support HE needed to integrate into our public school system, had not prepared him for the thoughtless and self-centered torture that middle school students could inflict. But while others in middle school either taunted him or ignored him, Brandon knew that from me, he would always get a smile and “hello” and to me, he could always talk. Brandon felt alone and he became sad and frustrated as he became increasingly aware of his uniqueness. I’m not sure when things began to change for Brandon. Since his emotional maturity and physical coordination were so delayed, I had not realized how far he had steadily progressed. At long last, the rewards of Brandon’s steadfast perseverance were becoming apparent. It seemed that he had actually outgrown some of the characteristic that isolated him and he has gained both acceptance and respect from his peers. Everyone knows Brandon now. He’s one of the captains of the Suffern High School Football Team – you know the guy, the one strutting up and down the sidelines reacting to every move on the field. The whole stadium can hear him screaming “Go Mounties!” He plays only a few minutes in a game but treasures each of those minutes and he is so proud to wear the white and blue uniform with #6 and stand alongside his teammates. When Brandon was needy, he taught me compassion. When he was sad, he taught me how to be a friend. When his uniqueness makes him angry, he shows me how he can love in spite of the pain and frustration. When he perseveres, he inspires me. Both Brandon and I will never be perfect and he has taught me that neither of us have to be. Brandon is not a superhero – he just another kid now, but he’s my hero and my inspiration. He has helped me realize my own hidden strengths, assets and virtues. Brandon is not a football star but he continues to be my shining star and my friend and I love him.

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