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Friendships that Last

A 20 Year Journey of Parenting a Child with Autism

The following is an excerpt from a college application essay by Luke’s best friend, Mark Rosskamm, who is a sophmore at Indiana University.  Mark and his identical twin Neil are the kind of people you cherish having in your child’s life.  

While I was persistent in cultivating this friendship, they made it happen.

Luke and Me: The Journey We’ve Taken Together

When we are little, we often don’t even notice that some kids are different. That’s how it was with my buddy, Luke. When we met in the second grade, I had no idea that Luke was “special.” To me, he was just another skinny kid who liked eating cookies, playing outside, and watching Nickelodeon on TV—just like me.  It wasn’t until after I invited Luke over to my house one afternoon that I learned I was the first classmate ever to ask him for a play date. Since then, Luke and I have spent thousands of afternoons together, sharing an incredible journey that has changed and shaped each of us in more ways than we could have imagined.

Luke has autism. He finds social interaction challenging, thrives on routine, and exhibits repetitive behaviors. He also has certain learning difficulties. Yet, Luke has come a long way since second grade. He has made significant progress socially and physically, while learning many critical life skills, and I like to think our friendship had something to do with that.

Since I enjoyed Luke’s company, I naturally introduced him to many of my other friends and included him in our activities, like sleepovers, dinners in local restaurants, birthday parties, and sporting events. Along the way, I saw Luke become more confident in approaching strangers and interacting with them. His behavior in a variety of social settings improved tremendously, and he learned important boundaries. Now he enjoys the company of a large group of friends both with and without special needs.

Luke needed to work on coordination, as well as learn how to play the organized sports he loves, so I volunteered as a soccer- and baseball-buddy on his special needs teams. We spent hours mastering the art of throwing a ball, learning to swim, playing miniature golf, and building his confidence. He also learned how to control his strength when playing with smaller, less strong teammates!

Building important life skills has perhaps been Luke’s greatest accomplishment. Helping him do it has been one of mine. As a kid, I would take Luke on bike rides around town. We might stop for a snack at Dairy Queen or go to the library and choose books and videos that I knew Luke would like. While it often would have been easier for me to take charge and take care of things, I somehow knew it was more important for Luke to learn how to ask for directions to a store, figure out a tip, or handle the change. These real-life experiences have improved his self-esteem. Now, he is not afraid to try new things. He has developed responsibility and learned to make decisions for himself.

Luke is not the only one who has grown from our friendship. For me, the benefits of our relationship have been different, but equally profound.

First and foremost, thanks to Luke, the way I view people with disabilities is different than the view that most people my age have. I do not see people with disabilities as “different.” Instead, I focus on the many unique things they have to share. Luke helped me to see the happiness and joy that are all around us, to appreciate life’s little moments, and to recognize how important perseverance is when life throws you a curve ball.

Thanks to Luke, I embraced responsibility at an earlier age than many of my peers.  When we were little, either my mom or Luke’s mom would accompany us on our adventures around town. Eventually, that was no longer necessary. One of them just dropped us off and picked us up. The outings became longer as Luke’s parents trusted me more and more with Luke’s well being. Today, Luke and I plan an entire day’s worth of activities that include one-on-one time, as well as hanging out with mutual friends. These days are the days that Luke and I look forward to most.

As a direct result of my friendship with Luke, I also became involved during high school in several activities aimed at empowering young people with special needs—Special Olympics, the Council for Exceptional Children, and a special needs Peer Mentoring class. In the process, I became more empowered, responsible, mature, and self-directed, too.

On a deeper level, my relationship with Luke has helped me become a more sensitive and caring person, someone who is willing to go out of my way to help others. I have learned to stand up for kids who cannot speak for themselves or are too shy to do so. I am more thoughtful when I am with my family, especially my elderly relatives. I always try to offer words of encouragement when I know someone needs them. 

It makes me feel good to know that I have a made a difference in Luke’s life, so much so that it has motivated me to want to do more. I think Luke is proud of my decision to major in special education so that I can help other children who are special, just like he is. I know I am proud of him and all he has accomplished and will continue to accomplish as our incredible journey continues. While our paths will diverge and spending time together on a regular basis will end when I leave for college, the experiences we have shared, and the lessons we have learned from each other, will serve as important personal guideposts for a lifetime. 

About the Author

Born and raised in Albany, NY, Amy has lived in Chicago and Highland Park for more than 30 years.  After leaving her corporate communications career, she moved to the burbs and lent her skills to the not-for-profit sector.  Amy has worked for charitable organizations in the arts and those that serve people with disabilities.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sue Keller May 08, 2012 at 11:49 AM
What a wonderful guy!!! He's the kind of kid we all wish our kid would be friends with....

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