Yesterday we received a copy of a college application essay from a young man we met last summer. I (Brooke) remember the meeting well because it was a rather spur of the moment visit arranged via text between two autism moms who often have trouble coordinating schedules. But we managed to introduce her nephew to James and they spent about 30 minutes together. Her nephew is the type of guy who makes you feel hopeful. He is handsome, smart, polite, kind, genuine, and even a great athlete. A lot of his family attended or attends the University of Notre Dame and it’s his dream to go there too. Notre Dame was a common denominator because early on in our RPM journey when James was just beginning to tell us his hopes he told us he’d like to go to Notre Dame and make his Dad proud. His Dad did not go there but wishes he did and is a huge Irish fan!
Six months later this young man sent us a copy of the essay. I forgot about it and I think James did too. What he said about James was so much more than we would have ever expected from a 30 minute meeting. James didn’t really respond when I read it to him but later in the day he came to his Dad and me with his letter board and said “I am so proud of that college essay”.
I feel mixed about posting the essay (or part of it) on the blog because I don’t like to put James on a pedestal. He is a normal teenager who struggles with the symptoms of autism every single day. He has good days and bad but like most of us he longs to make a difference and to rise above his challenges. This essay reflects the goodness of a young man who wanted to get to know someone who at least on the surface seems very different from him and whose life holds significant challenges. I hope he gets accepted into Notre Dame and I hope both he and James get to follow their dreams.
I took a trip in the summer of 2015 to Washington D.C. and unexpectedly learned a lesson from a single interview that set about my transition to adulthood. I went to work with my aunt, a passionate woman who, inspired by her son Ryan, started her own Therapy center for children with special needs. However, my story began that week in D.C. with a boy who showed me a different level of inspiration. My story begins with my friend, James. James is a 16 year old young man who has autism, and prior to recent developments, was taking classes at first and second grade levels. He now benefits from a method of communication which uses an alphabetical board placed in front of him to help converse. RPM or Rapid Prompting Method is a method developed for people who are unable to express their true thoughts due to autism or who are otherwise non-verbal due to other developmental disorders. James is now taking courses for his age level, writing his own sophisticated essays and best of all, has aspirations of attending the University of Notre Dame.
I went to visit James to discover this amazing process firsthand. It took me some time to think of what I wanted to ask him but as I sat with James, I let my curiosity do the work. I asked him about his favorite subjects in school, his favorite books and even his favorite part about Notre Dame. Then, I asked him my most thought provoking question, “What would you like to say to others about people with autism?” James responded verbatim: “I want them to know that I am all there. I can hear, I can see, I can understand.”…
Meeting James affected my life by showing me that I can find strength and prudence in someone who would otherwise go unnoticed. Learning this lesson has taught me to acknowledge the quietest students especially in my classes or on the track with my team.I am truly inspired by James to use my status as captain of the track team to act as a model of stability for the less confident kids.
I push myself harder now than I ever have because anything less would be a disservice to myself. James is a model for me and a significant inspiration for this ongoing trend of hard work…