June 1, 2020
Meet the outstanding group of teens that took home honors at this year’s Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities annual spring gala. The awards recognize young people who, despite their learning challenges, have already accomplished great things, leaving an indelible mark in their communities and inspiring others with their extraordinary achievements.
Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award
Mory Gould, Potomac, MD
When Mory was finally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia in the eighth grade, the news came as a relief. “While academics was a constant struggle,” he notes, “I found redemption in athletics. On the soccer field, basketball court and diving board, I was rewarded for my hard work and determination, and I excelled.” Now 17, Mory is a nationally ranked diver, and a self-described expert in time management and self-advocacy. He will attend Indiana University in the fall, joining their top-ranked diving team, and plans to study biology and physics. His next goal: To reach the finals at the Olympic diving trials in 2020.
Special Recognition Winner
Paige Christie, Brookfield, WI
“Put a math equation or chemical reaction in front of me,” says Paige, “and a whole new world opens.” Paige’s difficulties with dyslexia have not stopped her from taking many AP courses, and doing exceptionally well—particularly in math and science where her passion lies. Her interests include robotics, rock climbing, and marching band. She started a STEM camp for upper elementary students, now in its third year, earning her Girl Scout Gold Award. Developing a strong work ethic and challenging herself, she earned acceptances from her top two colleges, Colorado School of Mines and Michigan Technological University.
Maia Abbruzzese, Portland, OR
An outspoken and charismatic community advocate and political activist, Maia’s ADHD has served to channel her many gifts and talents. The 17-year-old’s passion for public speaking and debate propelled her to a #2 ranking for public speaking in her home state, where she has competed in more than 90 tournaments. Through public speaking, Maia has raised awareness for economic and racial injustice, mental health issues, gun control, criminal justice reform, and people with disabilities. She was a finalist in the “Brave New Voices International Poetry Festival” at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC.
Sahil Menon, Bel Air, MD
Diagnosed with ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and Tourette Syndrome, Sahil’s elementary school years were marked by daily bullying. Beyond the intense to keep himself focused, control his tics, and allow his extraordinary academic abilities to flourish, Sahil has dedicated himself to making a difference for others. As a Youth Ambassador for the Tourette Syndrome Association, he advocates for funding and supportive legislation, and promotes awareness about Tourette’s and other learning disabilities. A tireless advocate for less privileged youth, Sahil has already launched a STEM summer camp for underprivileged students, homeless children, and those with LD; founded a non-profit to seek grants for STEM educational projects, and serves on the board of a non-profit supporting children dealing with both cancer and homelessness.
Bryan Perla, West Boylston, MA
“I am Bryan Perla. I am dyslexic, and I refuse to be defined by the negative connotation of the word.” He knew that in order to perform at the same level as other students, he needed to work harder and develop compensatory strategies. With this work ethic, he scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT test and completed his junior year of high school with a GPA of 3.7. Bryan also carves out about 20 hours per week for gymnastics, competing successfully at the state, regional and national levels. Bryan, now 18, also mentors a local Special Olympian. He will attend Stanford University in the fall, joining its gymnastics program.
Christoph Russi, Westport, CT
With maturity Christoph has become more comfortable utilizing the tools available to help manage his ADHD. As a result, he’s been able to reach his academic, extracurricular and personal goals. That along with greater self-awareness have bolstered his self-confidence, and allowed him to flourish as a filmmaker, journalist, athlete, musician, and student at his Westport high school. ADHD has provided the subject matter for both Christoph’s filmmaking and his writing. In his spare time, he plays first violin in several youth orchestras and performs at honors recitals, and community fundraising events. Next year he will study film production at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Ethan Wadsworth, Brooklyn, NY
Although dyslexia made reading and math difficult for Ethan, he discovered early on that he had a gift for art. Spending much of his time drawing, his characters soon evolved into comic strips. At 16, Ethan has already achieved professional success as a character designer and illustrator for a series of building sets. Employed part-time as a creative designer, his boss notes that “Despite—or maybe because of—his dyslexia, Ethan has tremendous focus and an unparalleled work rate in regard to art, design, animation and anything visual.” Ethan has been a member of the National Honor Society for three years and has served as a school ambassador for the last two years. He plans to continue to study animation and is proud to call himself an artist.