Dylan Zsigray, a high school senior with resolved Childhood Apraxia of Speech, shared his college application essay where he details his experience with CAS. Dylan has applied to both the University of Rhode Island and the University of Cincinnati with the intent to double major in Global Business Management and Spanish.
I remember a lot of things from my childhood, but one series of events stands out in particular. I remember sitting across from my speech-language pathologist, unable to speak basic words like “elephant” and “bread.” I remember carrying around a five-pound augmentative communication device that spoke for me at a young age. I remember being separated from my peers in elementary school each day as I had to attend speech therapy sessions. I remember the pain in my mother’s eyes, as she coped emotionally with the realization that she could not understand me when I spoke, and how I lost so much confidence in myself when I could not speak. All humans have one or more defining moments in their lives—a moment that has shaped them or drastically changed their perspectives. For me, the one defining moment in my life was my journey to find my voice with Apraxia of Speech.
When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Apraxia of Speech. This is a speech disorder that, in short, affects the pathway between the brain and the mouth. Words are formed perfectly in the brain, but en route to the mouth, they become jumbled and come out unintelligible. From age two until age ten, I worked tirelessly to gain the ability to speak. I attended speech therapy up to four days per week and, for a time, carried the aforementioned augmentative communication device. However, beneath the diagnosis of Apraxia, there was a realization that I came to understand in elementary school: I was a child with a special need. Being a child with a special need is hard. You are viewed as an outsider. All children want to be like everyone else and to be constantly told that you are “different” is detrimental to one’s adolescent psychological development. After those eight years of tirelesswork, in conjunction with my parents and therapists, I was able to speak and be understood. I had conquered Apraxia.
But my journey with Apraxia did not stop at age ten. My quest to find my voice continues to be an integral part of my life because those eight years shaped me in ways unimaginable. First, it changed my perspective on what it takes to belong. I believe that none of us as humans are “different.” “Different” has a negative connotation that expresses inferiority to another being. This just is not the case in reality. Regardless if you have a special need or not, we are all defined by our individual character and traits. In retrospect, I was not “different” from my peers, but was profoundly unique, just like the classmate who sat across from me. Furthermore, my journey made me realize that empathy and compassion are perhaps the two most important traits to exhibit in our present world—traits that I have since taken to heart.
No one wants to feel like they do not belong and I have a personal experience with this struggle. My journey to find my voice helped me to see the power of simply saying “I understand” or “I have been there before” has on other humans. Through this, one forms relationships set on the non-superficial foundation of empathy and compassion. Because, if we understand those around us, amazing things will occur. But it takes one person to start this trend, and that person is me, through my work, my relationships with those around me, and the friendships I have with children with special needs.
My journey with Apraxia, a journey to find my voice, did not come and go like a hurricane or a storm. It has stayed with me and has shaped me into who I am. Challenges are meant to be overcome, but the feat is easier with support around you, which is what I strive to do today.