Ava was a winner of a 2022 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay she included with her application.
I grew up in a world of blissful ignorance as a normal child. At age 15, my world was changed. I was pushed into a world of discrimination and skeptics after being ordinary my whole life. This change was a diagnosis of a tic disorder that would soon develop into Tourette’s syndrome. I went from being an ordinary neurotypical child to being a teenager with a mental disorder that I was unable to hide. Tourette’s is an internal disorder that’s written on a post-it on your back like a “kick me” sign, a juxtaposition of the idea that mental disorders are invisible. Before, I was able to blend into a crowd, blind to the hate of the world directed at anyone remotely different from the stereotype of acceptance. Now, I’m thrust into the light of a world that stares at me as if I have three heads. Metaphors aside, my view of society was turned on its head. Completely unaware of the magnitude of my blindness, I became neurodivergent in a sea of normal people.
Teenage years on their own are a time of change and learning. However, for me, I had to reteach myself the ways of the world and how to deal with attention that I had never before received. As a child, I was quiet and shy; I was the girl who hid behind her mom at social gatherings. As difficult as it is to admit, I was incredibly unprepared for what the world had in store for me. Restaurants became a stage for my vocal tics to perform their show, with less than eager spectators wishing they had chosen a table further away. I was the circus type entertainment in a library; a freakshow on a playground. Children stared and asked their moms why I was yelling while the moms tried their hardest not to make eye contact. I experienced an encounter with humiliation and attention after fitting so perfectly into the mold created for a place in society. This sudden shock caused unfamiliar feelings of inadequacy. With such feelings being so foreign, I was faced with questioning my future. How could I be the best when there are so many others who achieve as much as I do but don’t stick out in such a negative way?
I learned the hate and immaturity of the world just as I was trying to learn my place. However, going through these changes gave me an outlook on life that the ordinary teenagers didn’t have. I found myself able to better navigate the world and ignore the opinions of those who refuse to accept you. While my life seemed to be turned upside down, in reality, my eyes were simply opened to the world as it truly is. The world is indeed a place of hate and ignorance but the presence of those who don’t fit into the molds are what make it beautiful. My perspective changed from not being normal to being remarkable. I was no longer ordinary. I was part of something bigger.
This is what sets me apart from everyone else. I am far more noteworthy and have learned far more independence, including how to navigate society as a unique individual. While my Tourette’s itself is not necessarily an achievement, it gave me the keys to success in the world.