A valuable lesson learned

My brother's name is Dan.
He is 14 years old, two years my junior.
He is funny, gentle and sweet, and he is the most loving person I know.
He never met a person he didn't like, and treats everyone he meets in the same kind, considerate manner.
Eager to learn, Dan loves school, and he speaks highly of all his teachers.
He enjoys reading and cooking. He also helps out at home by vacuuming our carpets every few days, usually without being told to do so (which is more than I could say for myself).
Dan is a great impressionist, and can perform entire scenes from certain movies, imitating the intonation and pitch of various voices nearly perfectly.
This talent, along with his remarkable singing ability, has entertained our family and friends since he was a little boy.
My brother dislikes discord of any kind, and often acts as a mediator -- especially when I'm in trouble.
He forgives offenses immediately, and never bears grudges.
He's always there to cheer me up when I'm sad. He rarely gets in trouble himself, but when he does, it is impossible to stay mad at him, because he is so genuinely apologetic.
My brother is my hero, because he is the most wonderful person I've ever had the honor to know.
Not typical: But he's not just your typical teen-age guy.
My brother Dan has autism, a physical disorder of the brain that results in lifelong developmental disability.
If that definition seems wordy, it breaks down to this: Because of an abnormality or a chemical imbalance in his brain, Dan will always have difficulty in socializing and learning. Making conversation is a challenge for him, especially with unfamiliar people.
Because of his learning disability, he cannot be taught in the conventional way; instead, most of his schoolwork is modified so he can understand it.
Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many disabled individuals at schools and programs Dan has attended.
Although it is sometimes sad to witness their trials and realize the great extent of their needs, the experience is also a joy. The special-needs children I know love life and live each day to the fullest.
Valuable lessons: These amazing people have taught me lessons in patience, compassion and unconditional love. The more time I spend with them, the more I learn from them.
I'm not the only person who is impressed by Dan and other special-needs students. I've spoken with many teen-agers who have been exposed to Dan's class and classes similar to it, and they agree with me wholeheartedly.
A great number of students at Canfield High School choose to volunteer in the classrooms for the disabled. Because of this, a program has been developed called Helping Hands in which typical students can assist in the special-needs units.
I can only hope that even more people will realize the value of our developmentally disabled population.
It thrills me to see my peers so eager to spend time with these terrific individuals.
I am deeply moved by their patience, kindness and genuine interest, because I know I would never want anything less for Dan.
XLouise, 16, is a junior at Canfield High School, where she is a member of the drama and math clubs, the newspaper staff and the academic challenge team.

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