By Jacob Volosik
Kindergarten, a time when most 5 year olds enjoy playing, learning, and making new friends, was the worst time of my life. I began elementary school with delayed speech, social/emotional difficulties, and crippling anxiety. The sights and sounds and stimulus of school were overwhelming and I just didn’t have the experience or the tools to cope … yet. I saw the world differently and acted differently and didn’t fit in. Unfortunately, my symptoms were mistaken for “bad behavior” and I was frequently scolded and punished by teachers. This made me feel isolated, confused, fearful, angry, and depressed. I was soon diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, yet even with a diagnosed disability, a comprehensive 1.E.P., and lots of support outside of school, in school I was still hugely misunderstood, ostracized, and bullied by both kids and teachers on a daily basis just because I was different. At that time, our school sent kids like me away to other schools with more experience with children with special needs. However. in spite of daily bullying and some traumatic experiences, I never gave up. No matter what happened, I always wanted to go back to school each morning, with a hope of having a better day and to learn.
While my parents worked with the school to make it a more tolerant and inclusive place, I worked on myself. I learned to manage stress with techniques such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises. I learned to become better at solving problems by thinking through things using logic rather than impulses. I learned to be patient by thinking ahead when bored instead of focusing on the time that I waited. I learned how to advocate for myself by learning how to effectively communicate by backing my arguments with reason rather than with anger or emotion. I learned to fill my need to be challenged by joining extra-curricular activities like the Chess Club, competing at NYSSMA on piano, entering Science Fairs, and attending yearly summer camps at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cornell. These important skills helped me go from barely surviving, to thriving in and out of school. Because of my tumultuous start and the years it took learning how to cope and manage, I had a lot of catching up to do. But I am proud to say that through hard work, determination, and the support of friends, family, and teachers, I have become a well-rounded highly successful student, teammate, employee, volunteer, mentor, and friend. In High School, I have maintained High Honor Roll each year, have taken and excelled at AP courses, and received a 1470 on my SATs. I went undefeated in doubles tennis, produce weekly episodes for SOHO TV, became a World Champion semi-finalist and won for Game Design in FIRST Robotics. I am a member of the National Honor Society, volunteer at Southold Library and Bideawee Animal Shelter, and work for the Southold Park District. All these activities and accomplishments are fun, exciting, and rewarding, but also are a lot of work. It takes passion, stamina, problem-solving, and the ability to collaborate to get the job done. My successes showed me that hard work pays off. College will be my next challenge, but I welcome it, because I know I have the tools to face them and will grow as a person from the experience.
My experiences growing up motivated me to look for opportunities to help younger kids through tutoring after school and mentoring in some of the very same programs that I went to as a kid such as the Chess Club and Pokemon Club. I have been teaching the kids many of the same skills that I acquired when I was their age and have learned that patience and empathy help me relate and connect with the kids I work with.
I am also happy to say that not only have I grown and learned from the hardships early on but I feel my school has grown as well. Because I refused to give up and go somewhere else, they too were forced to learn how to support children with special needs and have implemented many school wide supports that they didn’t have before that now helps other children with special needs. I want to become a teacher so I can continue to help kids of all abilities and diversities reach their potential like I have.