I was born weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces. I was small, even for a newborn in a big world.
While I was in the womb, the doctor gave my brother and me a low chance of survival because the umbilical cord was struggling to support us both. Despite this, we were born with no severe handicaps.
By the time I was 9, however, I realized I was different from other kids my age.
At school, while other kids talked and played, I stayed at my desk. I struggled to understand what was being taught and I was too afraid to ask for help. My mom wondered if something was wrong with me.
When I was 9, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I was then placed in special education classes and told I would be in those kinds of classes for the rest of my time in school.
Compared with my brother Dan, who had “normal” classes, the academic expectations placed on me were minuscule.
After school, Dan and I would do our homework on opposite ends of our bedroom. I remember looking across at him writing and editing papers while I was doing assignments covering basic grammar.
Seeing Dan work through his more advanced work pushed me to rise above the low expectations set for me.
With my parents’ encouragement, I mustered the confidence to speak up in class and interact with my teachers and peers.
With these newfound skills, I was able to work my way into regular classes by middle school.
Middle school proved to be the greatest stepping-stone to where I am now. The multitude of classes and clubs allowed me to meet many new people. I continued to mature as a student and as a person.
By this point, I could talk to teachers about topics not related to class and feel comfortable. By the end of middle school, I had become much more social.
Learning social skills gave me courage. While growing up, I took Ritalin to focus in class, but as I grew older, I began to take it less frequently.
In the middle of eighth grade, I finally reached the point where I could say, “never again,” as I threw away the last bottle of pills.
It’s been five years. The perseverance and discipline I developed as an adolescent allow me to excel as a college student at Penn State.
Despite the challenges set before me as an infant and as a child, I’ve been able to achieve goals that might have once seemed impossible.
And now, with the encouragement of my family, I am more determined than ever to persevere and rise above any obstacles that may come my way.
The start of my life story may have been humble, but I’ve come to believe that big things have small beginnings.
Andrew Slysh lives in Chalfont. His essay aired Feb. 6 on WPSU.