I met Dylan in gym class during my senior year of high school. I should mention that Dylan is autistic, but his diagnosis truly has no effect on our friendship. The gym class was meant to provide an opportunity for autistic students to interact with their fellow classmates. Originally, I just thought this class would be a good experience and help me gain insight into my autistic classmates’ lives. I never expected I would meet one of my best friends in the class.
As Dylan walked into our first gym class, he held the door for his fellow classmates, greeted everyone with a short hello, and continued to sit down calmly. He remained quietly sitting and listened intently to the teacher. As our teacher demonstrated the tasks of the day, Dylan focused on every movement that the teacher made. Once the teacher finished, Dylan sprung up and went directly to his first station. Among the confusion and the teacher explaining some of the tasks again to the students, I watched Dylan complete his exercise flawlessly on his first attempt. From the very first day I met Dylan, his genuine effort to be the best he can be was apparent.
Dylan didn’t talk much, but it didn’t matter at all to me. Over that year, an unspoken understanding grew between us, and we instinctively responded to each other’s cues. Unlike many friendships that consist of a lot of meaningless conversation, Dylan and I found solace in silence.
Despite our differences, we celebrated each other’s strengths. Every class, I became more and more impressed with Dylan’s athletic ability. His natural talent allowed him to complete difficult tasks I couldn’t do myself. During obstacle courses, Dylan would speed past me and conquer each task flawlessly. But it was his unconditional optimism and hard work to properly complete activities that inspired me to do better. Eventually gym class became the highlight of my day.
One of my favorite memories is when the gym teacher turned on music for the first time. Dylan’s face immediately lit up, and he began to dance, perfectly in rhythm and in sync with the music. His happiness was infectious, and all of a sudden I found myself dancing with him. Usually the idea of dancing in the middle of the gym in front of the entire class would be terrifying, but with Dylan by my side I wasn’t self-conscious.
Dylan has been a very positive influence in my life and taught me how to approach daily events. Since meeting Dylan, I strive to be the best I can be while remaining positive in every aspect in my life. Since I am trying my best and am enjoying everything that I do, I have learned to worry less about what people think. I have continued Dylan’s approach at Penn State and recognize the impact that he has had in my everyday life.
Since meeting him, I believe that by accepting people for who they are you can make stronger connections. It would have been easy for me to ignore Dylan during gym class and focus on myself, but I would have missed out on one of the most rewarding friendships I’ll ever have. If more people were like Dylan, I think the world would be a lot better off. I believe in Dylan.
Brooke Zlotshewer is a freshman at Penn State University Park. She plans to graduate in 3 years with a degree in psychology and neuroscience.
She’s from Newtown, Pennsylvania and makes sure to see Dylan when she’s on break from school.