This summer, the Law Office of Michael D. Waks held it’s first annual Essay Contest for students living with a disability. Disabled Los Angeles County high school seniors and students attending a California accredited college or university, competed for the $1,000 scholarship. Participants wrote about the educational challenges presented by their disability, how they overcame them, and how their disability has influenced their educational and career path.
The theme of the essay contest reflects the profound respect and admiration attorney Waks has gained watching clients with disabilities overcome educational obstacles. “As a Long Beach personal injury attorney for over 30 years, I have represented young clients living with disabilities caused by auto accidents. I have seen how difficult it can be for them to move forward with their education. For this reason, I established the Michael D. Waks Essay Contest to help disabled students reach their educational goals.”
Meet Michael Rice, the Michael D. Waks Essay Contest Winner
Congratulations to Michael Rice, this year’s contest winner. Like many students with disabilities, school was not easy for Michael, who was diagnosed with autism at age 10. But after a lot of work and determination, Michael is attending Long Beach City College. He plans to obtain an Associates Degree in Kinesiology with a certificate in physical fitness training. He then hopes to transfer to California State University Long Beach to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Biomedical Engineering.
After personally congratulating him on his winning essay, Attorney Waks said, “It was an honor and privilege meeting the winner of the scholarship contest I sponsored. Michael Rice is a truly exceptional individual who has not let his autism stand in the way of his goals and aspirations. I am glad to be a small part of paving the way for his future by granting him these scholarship funds.”
Please read the winning essay here.
How Harbor Regional Center Helped
As a child with autism, Michael Rice struggled to understand the material being taught at school. In addition, he was fearful that other children would find out about his disability. Fortunately, he found help at Harbor Regional Center. Through HRC programs, he learned to overcome many of the issues he was facing.
Harbor Regional Center provides services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, and other conditions closely related to mental retardation. To qualify for services at Harbor Regional Center, certain conditions must be present – the disability must have occurred before the age of 18, be likely to continue indefinitely, and constitute a “substantial” disability for the person.
According to Michael Rice, Harbor Regional Center has played an important, and ongoing, role in his life and his education. “This organization helped me overcome many challenges when I was younger and will continue in the future,” said Michael in his winning essay. Through the Harbor Regional Center program, College 2 Career, Michael is able to attend Long Beach City College. He is receiving residential housing, life coaching, and daily support services while attending college. After graduation, Michael will also receive assistance finding employment in his chosen field through the program.
Autism encompasses a group of complex disorders effecting the brain. It impairs social interaction and the development of language and communication skills, combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because there are ranges of symptoms and impairments, autism now falls under the heading autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The extent to which symptoms are present determines where the individual is on the autism spectrum.
Michael Rice was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA). This means the signs and symptoms of autism are less severe. Even so, a child with HFA will experience a significant delay in speech and language skills. So although they generally have an average, or above-average IQ, a child with HFA will have difficulty communicating their thoughts. This negatively impacts both their academic performance and their ability to socialize with peers. However, as Michael has shown, with the right support and encouragement, a child with HFA can live an independent and highly productive adult life.
About the Michael D. Waks Essay Contest
The Michael D. Waks Essay Contest is an annual scholarship opportunity for college students living with a disability. Information on next year’s contest will be posted on michaelwaks.com on this page. For more information contact: [email protected]
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