By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
Ethan is a champion hockey player. Austin enjoys attending his games.

Ethan and Austin- best buddies

By Marlene Ratledge Buchanan

Ethan Erlandson, a graduating senior from Mill Creek High School was asked to write and essay on his life for his college application. It made such an impact on his teachers and others who read it, that it was shared over and over again with friends and family of special needs children and adults.

The following is Ethan’s essay. 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 downssyndrome 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.Austin Walker and his best buddy, Ethan Eurlandson

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. Austin Walker’s parents had been apprehensive about his start in high school. Special Ed teacher, Ms. Farrington, encouraged them to let Austin attend the first Best Buddies evening program. His father credits Ethan and the others in making Austin’s high school experience and positive one. Ethan will be attending Michigan State University in the fall. Austin will be a sophomore at Mill Creek High School, and continuing to inspire others to change their world. Best Buddies International Club was founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver. This non-profit organization is dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one to one friendships and integrated employment. For more information on the Best Buddies International Club, www.bestbuddies.org or www.e-buddies.orgEthan