Dylan Spetz and Eric Hattum

Dylan and Eric with their Rick Hansen relay medals

Medal Bearer Friends and Collective Difference Makers

Dylan Spetz and Eric Hattum have known each other ever since they can remember and have always been close despite their ten-year age gap. Since Eric was diagnosed with autism four years ago, Dylan has acted as his mentor and the two boys have continued to spend time together even though they no longer live close by. They regularly go swimming, visit each other’s houses, and just hang out together. These might be little things, but they have made a big difference to both boys’ lives.

Anything is possible if you believe in yourself

"Dylan has always been able to get Eric to do things, like sit down and play with lego or read a book," says Lisa, Eric's mum. "It is great for Eric to have someone around who is older, but with whom he can still have fun. Dylan has helped Eric to be independent, and has boosted Eric's self-esteem." Eric has dyspraxia and finds some physical activities challenging, but Dylan is always there, encouraging him to keep trying.

"Eric is extremely clever, but has some physical co-ordination problems," says Dylan. "He is amazing! I wanted to show him that anything is possible if you believe in yourself, so I applied for us both to be medal bearers during the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay."

It was a magical moment for them to take part together. "Seeing Eric be the hero of his school on that day made my experience all that more extraordinary," says Dylan. It was precisely what he had long wanted to accomplish for Eric.

Volunteering does not have to be a big thing

The experience of seeing their son mentor Eric has had a big impact on Dylan's parents too. "We have realised that volunteering doesn't have to be a big thing, that it's the little things that make a big difference," says Karen Spetz.

For Lisa, the most important message is to create awareness about the broad spectrum of disability. She is not afraid of talking about her son's autism, because that is how society can be educated and adapt.

"Whether you are a child with autism, or a grandparent with a walker, it is important to be part of society rather than live in a little box," she says. "It is fantastic for people to see Dylan, a six foot plus football player, come to see Eric at his elementary school Christmas concert and to see them out and about together."

"Helping others I have gained self-confidence"

There is no doubt that Eric and Dylan have changed people's perceptions, and that they have made a huge difference in each other's lives.

"I truly believe we mentor each other," says Dylan. "At an early age I was bullied and my biggest challenge has been believing in myself. I never felt smart enough or good enough at anything. Working hard and helping others, I have gained self-confidence. Since mentoring Eric and taking part in the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay I have had a new world open up to me and discovered a self-awareness that was there all along. Thank you Rick Hansen Foundation."

We congratulate Dylan and Eric on changing people's perceptions of autism and highlighting how friends can make a huge difference in each other's lives.

The Rick Hansen Difference Maker Program empowers young people to make positive change in their communities.

Click here to find out more about the Program.

Read more stories of inspirational young Difference Makers here.