Smart Kids Recognizes Youth Achievements

The 2021 Fred J Epstein Youth Achievement Awards (YAA) were recently presented at the Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities annual 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 disabilities as a major factor in his success and became an inspiration to children with LD. 

Top Honors

The winner of this year’s $1,000 award is Serena Chen from Milpitas, CA. Serena was diagnosed with ADHD and additional challenges. She is the founder and coordinator of NeurodiverCity,, an international student community website including support and information from experts on being neurodiverse. She maintained a higher than 4.0 GPA and has excelled in online coursework certifications, including Psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Psychodiagnostics. Serena is an accomplished musician who plays the trumpet and piano. She has won many national and international music competitions, performed principal trumpet with the San Francisco Symphony and the National Honor Band at Carnegie Hall, and trained at some of the nation’s premier summer orchestral institutes including Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute. She looks forward to continuing her remarkable achievements this fall when she enrolls in Columbia University’s class of 2025.

Special Recognition

Kyla Walsh from Crestwood, KY, received the $500 Special Recognition Award. Kyla’s talents and interests range from competitive horseback riding and modeling for the Helens Wells Agency, to volunteering for Equine Therapy. She is challenged with ADHD, dysgraphia, and anxiety, but did not allow her struggle with written expression (dysgraphia), to stop her from writing poems, short stories, screenplays and novels. She published a book of her poems titled Poems are my Pills and will release another book of poems this spring. Kyla won an award for her short story “Monsters,” published in Spectrum, her school’s literary magazine. She also served as creative consultant for her screenplay, Better, that was selected and produced by the Oldham County Performing Arts Center. All this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Kyla will major in Creative Writing in college.

Honorable Mentions 

Ireland Bennett, Sandusky, OH: Diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety, Ireland channeled her academic frustrations and talent into artwork, creating sophisticated fashion designs and graphics. She has developed a social media presence with her Cosplay costumes, elaborate costumes of male superheroes in female form. Ireland dreams of eradicating the stigma of difference through her designs, and will continue her pursuit by studying fashion and design at Kent State University in the Fall of 2021. 

Edward R. Gibson, Lutherville, MD: “Simply put, my teachers believed that someone couldn’t be both smart and dyslexic. This initial injustice sent me down a path of advocating for the rights of others.” In middle school, Eddie joined Decoding Dyslexia, helping to lobby Congress to pass the Research Excellence Advancement for Dyslexia Act (READ Act). He met and shared his story with Congressman Lamar Smith, the bill’s sponsor, who presented Eddie’s story on the House Floor as Congress prepared to vote. This fall he will attend the University of Pennsylvania majoring in International Relations.

Cole Perry, New Albany, OH: Cole was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia in third grade. With a long-time interest in programming, driven by an online platform, Code Academy, Cole used technology to help him with his organizational challenges. He created a simple mobile app to enter assignments and receive prompts to do the assignments. Cole currently looks forward to choosing among his acceptances to top tech universities in the country.

Lindsay Wheeler, Las Vegas, NV: Lindsay and her mom traveled to a neuropsychologist in California to discover her dyslexia diagnosis. Lindsay founded Project Dot, a non-profit that provides feminine hygiene supplies to homeless and low-income women and girls in her community. With grant funds, a website, marketing materials, and partnerships with agencies in the city of Las Vegas, Lindsay coordinated the distribution of more than 5,500 Project Dot kits.  Lindsay is taking a dual enrollment class at her local community college with plans to pursue a major in psychology.