September 26, 2022
The 2022 Fred J Epstein Youth Achievement Awards (YAA) were presented at the Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities annual Spring benefit. The award, named for pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Fred J Epstein, recognizes outstanding achievements by young people with learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD. Dr. Epstein credited his significant learning differences as a major factor in his success. His legacy lives on in these notable honorees for the Youth Achievement Awards that bear his name.
The 2022 Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award winner is Tatum Thomas from Los Gatos, CA. A student with an extraordinary resume of achievements and service, Tatum transformed herself from a child with multiple learning differences who had to repeat second grade to a champion and advocate for others with similar challenges. Among her accomplishments are student government and mock trial leadership positions, outstanding grades, a cappella singing, volunteer work at hospitals and the humane society, and the creation of a tutoring business for students with disabilities. When her plans to spend a summer in Peru were derailed by the pandemic, Tatum founded an international nonprofit to serve Peruvian children with learning differences, an effort for which she is learning Quechua. “My personal experience shows young kids that just because their brain works differently, doesn’t mean they lack intelligence.” Next year Tatum will carry her determination and inspiration to Northwestern University.
This year’s 2022 Special Recognition Winner is Andre Allen, a member of the National Honor Society and Captain of his wrestling team and a Maryland top-10 wrestler in his weight class. This Upper Marlboro scholar-athlete has been fighting hard his entire life. Weighing less than two pounds at birth, Andre required major surgery to survive, and has continued to persevere as he’s learned to successfully navigate life with ADHD and Dyslexia. Andre volunteers at the local Boys and Girls Club and has a part-time job. He is known as a hard-working self-advocate with impeccable character who thrives on helping others. Andre plans to continue to wrestle and achieve his goals at McDaniel University in the Fall.
Alejandra Engel, identified early with dyslexia, attended a school for kids with LD. Like many of her same-age peers, the Lynnwood, WA teen struggled with depression due to Covid and compounded by the loss of two grandparents. Ultimately, she faced her fears by learning coping skills and finding an inner strength she didn’t know she had. Her goal is to become a psychiatric nurse to support others with life’s challenges. Speaking from experience she suggests, “Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You’re not alone.”
As a fifth grader, Carlisle, PA resident Jonathan Thomas Filipovich was diagnosed with ADHD. Thanks to appropriate treatment, he became a focused, organized, and successful student—that is until Covid. Like so many students with attentional issues, online education was a temporary setback for him, from which he has fully rebounded. As a high school senior Jonathan is again pursuing a rigorous course load along with college level classes. In addition he has achieved Eagle Scout status while working 30- to 40-hours per week, and is looking forward to attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall.
Katelyn Justice, from Ashland, KY, feels the duality of being twice exceptional, identified with above-average intelligence and dyslexia and dysgraphia. As a result she felt out of place in both the special education program and the gifted/talented program. Her response was to confront the struggle to fit in by educating her peers about her experiences. One way in which she raised awareness was to institute a book drive for the benefit of her former elementary school’s special education department. Katelyn has demonstrated leadership in several arenas, including the Kentucky Youth Assembly, where she succeeded in getting a dyslexia evaluation bill passed. She is currently collaborating with an author to create a book about a learning-disabled superhero, who will probably look a lot like Katelyn.
Jeremy Todd Shinder’s success at the age of four, “reading the room” of casting agents who booked him for roles on Sesame Street and Nickelodeon, soon disappeared when he was unable to read the script for bigger roles. Amazingly, he discovered that when the lines were read to him, he could memorize them, and so his acting career continued. Frustrated by his difficulty in reading exacerbated by his severe ADHD, a turning point came in fifth grade when he played “Pugsley” in the International Tour of The Addams Family. It meant that he would spend that school year being tutored, allowing him to close the gap on his reading skills. Jeremy notes that among his most proud accomplishments, is graduating high school cum laude and making the Dean’s List each semester at Syracuse University, where he is an honors student and an award-winning filmmaker in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Reframing his disability as a diversability drives him to share what he has learned, and to overcome his challenges.