Cheviot, OH, February 14, 2017
Nikki is nonverbal and lives in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Brandon is on the autism spectrum with an outgoing personality and a love for music and dancing. While they may sound like an unexpected duo, they have been described as “two peas in a pod.”
There are people outside of the disability community who think that people with disabilities do not develop friendships, who dismiss people with disabilities as not being able to understand how to make or maintain friends. It’s not their fault for this misguidance—they don’t have any experiences to tell them otherwise, and, to quote photographer Harry Callahan, “experience is the best teacher of all.”
But spend the day at Easterseals’ Harrison-Cheviot facility, and it won’t take long to see the many beautiful friendships between staff, individuals, and family members. Dee Ann, Brandon’s mother, loves the way that everyone is treated “just as a member of [the] family.”
When Brandon joined the Harrison-Cheviot location, he was new and looking to make friends. On his first day, he immediately cast his eyes upon Nikki. Brandon approached, confidently smiling and making eye contact. He introduced himself to Nikki and within seconds had her smiling. His gentle and calming demeanor towards her allowed them to quickly form a strong bond.
The inseparable pair have charmed one another over the last several months. Dee Ann describes how, “when they’ve had outings, there’s always a picture of Brandon with Nikki. He always wants to make sure he sits next to her or he’s helping her get out of the van…I think he innately recognizes that she can’t walk around or talk or be communicative, but there is something he connects with and it’s really special.”
Nikki’s mother, Bonnie, also enjoys knowing that her daughter has made such a special friend. She jokes that Nikki had another boyfriend in the past that she would sit next to and they would “make goo-goo eyes at each other.” That young man has since passed away, she explains with a note of sadness. But she appreciates hearing how sweet and gentle Brandon is with her daughter. “I think she likes the attention,” she says. “She’s still a young lady, she likes male attention, the interaction.”
Their friendship is delightful to behold. Brandon does most of the talking, while Nikki vocalizes and shows emotion through her eyes and smile. He cares for her, pushing her wheelchair from place to place. He makes sure that she is guided carefully throughout the facility. He insists on cleaning them both up if any mess is made. Nikki loves Brandon’s frequent dancing; his energetic moves always leave Nikki smiling and laughing.
The month of February is not just about romantic relationships. It is about love in every sense of the word, and celebrating the people around you that make life worth living. To use just one more quote, this one from Maya Angelou: “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.” Nikki and Brandon will certainly be giving a smile to one another this Valentine’s Day, which will in turn spread smiles among their parents, Easterseals staff and everyone else around them. They are shining examples of how life is made by the friends we choose.