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Shared trait keeps teens' friendship going strong
By JESSE TRUESDALE - The Hutchinson News - Friday, May. 15, 2009

BUHLER, Kan. -- Estin Talavera and Matthew Van Sickler have been friends since second grade. They share some common interests, including online games and listening to music. But the two Buhler High School seniors share a more fundamental trait.

"Both of us don't get nonverbal cues," Estin said, referring to what many people call body language.

In Estin's case it's because he's blind. In Matthew's, it's because of Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

"I don't remember how we met," Estin said. "It was just meant to be."

His earliest and fondest memories, Estin said, were of the two of them at recess, "just hanging out and walking around" the playground. These days they listen to music together - Matthew favors music from Super Nintendo video games, while Estin likes alternative Christian rock - and play online role-playing games.

They also help each other with their studies. Matthew's forte is math, while Estin helps him out with English.

"We both just try to help each other," Estin said.

Though they've known each other for years, they just recently learned more about each other's disability through their joint senior project at Buhler High, for which each researched and gave a presentation on the other's condition.

As an example of what he learned doing the project, Matthew noted only 10 percent of schoolchildren learn Braille. That's because, he said, the resources to teach it are considered too expensive by many schools, which instead rely on audio texts and other technology.

For his part, Estin said, he learned one in 150 children have some kind of autistic disorder.

The idea for their senior project came about after they'd decided to do something on technology for the blind and sight-impaired.

"Then I thought we'd do it on both our disabilities," Estin said.

Matthew helped Estin by narrating what was on onscreen when he checked out DVDs about Asperger's for his research. For his research, Matthew went on a bus trip with Estin and other blind and sight-impaired students to Salina.

Deann Patterson, Matthew's mom, said his friendship with Estin has been a boon.

"I think he's happier than most kids with Asperger's," she said.

The condition means an impaired ability to interact socially, so many people with the condition never make any friends in high school, she said. And because he's happier, Matthew's friendship with Estin has made her job as a parent easier.

The senior project got her son to do what she'd long hoped he would, she said.

"He had a hard time talking about his disability," she said. "I always tried to get him to talk about Asperger's syndrome" but Matthew resisted.

This fall, Matthew will be attending Hutchinson Community College to study computers, in preparation for a career in information technology.

After taking courses this summer in Wichita to learn advanced assistive technologies for the blind and sight-impaired, Estin will attend the Kansas State School for the Blind for a year.

At the same time he'll be attending Kansas City Kansas Community College, where he'll go for two years. After that, he said he'll probably go to Mid-American Nazarene University to study either computer science or psychology.

Estin said he's not worried about making other friends, but hopes to be able to keep in touch with Matthew.

"Personally, I make friends pretty easily," Estin said. "But there are some friends you don't lose easily."


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