Elina Csapo is a rising high school senior with apraxia who created Young Able Voices, a peer-to-peer support group for children and teens with hidden disabilities. Elina talks about overcoming bullying, the power of a community of support, the importance of being your true, authentic self, and more!
Learn more about Young Able Voices at: https://www.youngablevoices.com/
Read the Transcript:
Lauren Clouser [00:00:06]:
Welcome to the LDA podcast. a series by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of intro to educators, individuals of learning disabilities, parents, and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world.
Lauren Clouser [00:00:23]:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA podcast. I’m here today with Elina Csapo. She’s the founder of Young Able Voices, a safe space for kids with hidden disabilities to connect. So, Elina, thank you so much for being here.
Elina Csapo [00:00:35]:
Thanks. I’m so happy to be here.
Lauren Clouser [00:00:37]:
So could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Elina Csapo [00:00:41]:
So, I’m 17. I live in New Jersey, and this September, I will be a senior. I was adopted from Khabarovsk, Russia, when I was about two and a half years old. My favorite subject is history, and I really enjoy some of my Latin classes. I love playing field hockey, rock climbing, golf, and I have to say I have never been to an ice cream shop that I have not liked.
Lauren Clouser [00:01:15]:
Sounds like you have a lot of good hobbies too to keep you busy. So, could you start off by telling us a little bit about what apraxia is, and then maybe we can dive into your journey with apraxia?
Elina Csapo [00:01:27]:
Yeah. So childhood apraxia of speech is a neurological speech disorder. So how I explain it to people is just a connection between my brain and mouth that doesn’t always connect very well, but it isn’t the strongest. So I was diagnosed when I was about four years old. When I was five, my mom met with literacy experts. And after that meeting, they told her that I was actually never going to be able to read, and I was destined to be a C student. Hearing that, my mom was, like, heartbroken and crying for weeks. When I was younger, a lot of teachers underestimated me. However, because I have such an amazing mom, she pushed me and kept giving me words of encouragement and pushed me to my limits. And I can say that I can read, and I am an A average student.
Lauren Clouser [00:02:41]:
That’s amazing. And it’s so great that your mom’s able to support you in that way. So could you tell us a little bit about some of the day to day challenges that you experience with apraxia?
Elina Csapo [00:02:52]:
So, when I was younger, it definitely was a lot more challenges that I faced, but now as a high school student, I struggle with word recall, I explain it to some that it’s like, my grandparents, old people, they have trouble with coming up with words, so that is something I struggle with on a day to day basis. And then sometimes sounds blur together, especially if I’m tired or it’s late at night. Sometimes like my ‘S’s or ‘SH’s blur together.
Lauren Clouser [00:03:42]:
So what is something that you wish that more people knew about apraxia?
Elina Csapo [00:03:47]:
So my dream for apraxia is for it to be known just as much as dyslexia is known. But I think when I tell people, oh, yeah, it’s a neurological disorder, people sometimes underestimate the intelligence thinking, oh, it has something to do with the intelligence. And that’s kind of what, like, the speech experts start. So I think one thing I would want people to know about, it has nothing to do with your intelligence, and don’t underestimate the kids with apraxia.
Lauren Clouser [00:04:30]:
Yeah. That’s a really important message, but they aren’t necessarily limited in the way that your speech experts thought.
Elina Csapo [00:04:36]:
Yeah, and like, their ability to not like…they have the ability to learn just like anyone’s kid. It’s just hard for them to speak or share their ideas.
Lauren Clouser [00:04:49]:
Well, and then I was watching the introduction video on your website, And in it you mentioned, you know, going through, feeling unheard and alone with your apraxia, could you talk to us a little bit about that?
Elina Csapo [00:05:02]:
So when I was younger, no one really understood. I understood that I sounded different because of a speech disorder. So no one could really understand me, and it was hard for me to make friends. And for years, I didn’t know that…I was the only one with apraxia. So I couldn’t really connect with anyone or know that, oh, I’m not, like, the only person who has apraxia or going through a hidden disability.
Lauren Clouser [00:05:45]:
Yeah. That’s really true. So you would also mention some experiences with bullies. Unfortunately, you know, that’s something that we hear about quite a bit. So could you talk a little bit about how that impacted you? And do you have any advice for students who might be going through some bullying right now?
Elina Csapo [00:06:02]:
So I can remember bullying from kindergarten to 8th grade. It wasn’t like every single day, but it was a part of my experience growing up. So reflecting back, I don’t really have a grudge on the kids when I was younger in elementary or intermediate school, as I honestly feel like they didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t understand. However, middle school is a little bit different story. So one experience in middle school, it was the first marking period, and there was this kid who, I will just call ‘A’, who kept making fun of how I sounded, saying like, ‘why do you sound so different?’ ‘You should go back to where you came from,’ or just really hurtful words and comments, and, like, ‘No one can understand you,’ trying to push me down. And I didn’t tell the teacher or my mom for a while, as I thought I could handle it. And I’ve handled other cases, but, also, I kind of felt like it was common. I was like, I expected that. At that point, I expected someone making comments like that, but eventually it just became too much. And one time I came home, and I told my mom, I’m about to punch this kid if he makes one more comment. I wouldn’t really punch, but I was very angry and hurt. And my mom immediately reached out to the principal to the teacher. And the next day, the teacher pulled me aside and said that he was going to fix this. And so that was a really impactful experience as I realized that I don’t deserve to expect that people will make mean comments. I expect a human respect, decency. And so from then on, when I get mean comments, which I didn’t get many, bullying is banned, but I just told the teacher. And unfortunately the next year I lost a friend that I thought I had. But yeah. So always expect, demand to get human decency and respect.
Lauren Clouser [00:09:02]:
That’s great advice. I really love that. and again, I’m sorry you went through that, but I think that’s such a good message to share with people that you know, you don’t deserve that, and you should reach out. Well, switching gears here a little bit. Could you tell us about Young Able Voices?
Elina Csapo [00:09:18]:
So Young Able Voices is a nonprofit organization, got papers filled out earlier this summer, so it’s a peer-to-peer support group for kids and teens with hidden disabilities to connect with one another, via zoom or online to know that they aren’t alone and that their future is bright.
Lauren Clouser [00:09:44]:
That’s great because it sounds like community is so important, to helping people know that they’re not alone. Yeah. So could you talk a little bit about why you decided to create Young Able Voices? It sounds like your own experience really shaped a lot of that.
Elina Csapo [00:09:59]:
Yeah. So I will try to do the short version.
Lauren Clouser [00:10:03]:
Elina Csapo [00:10:05]:
As it’s quite an interesting, story. Right before the pandemic I was in 8th grade, and my speech teacher told me that I graduated speech. And for me, for the longest time, that was something I was wishing and hoping for. It was this huge fantasy of mine that once I was done speech, I wanted a big giant cake, I wanted a banner, I wanted a whole celebration and be done with that. But apraxia is the gift that keeps on giving, and you can never fully get rid of apraxia. So during my sophomore year, I realized that I needed to go back to speech due to word recall. I was really struggling with that. And having that frustration, that realization…because I always thought if I work hard on something, I would overcome it. But with apraxia, as much as I work hard, it won’t ever go away. So that was a big realization for me. And, so I wanted to talk to people about it. And I thought I would find a support group, because my mom was a part of many support groups on Facebook. Unfortunately, I couldn’t I didn’t find any. And I still had that frustration. And I even tried, my school offered this literary magazine thing, and I wrote about my apraxia and submitted it. Unfortunately it didn’t get published, but it was a really good way to get my anger out. But this is the funny part of it. So I was going, near the end of my sophomore year, I was going on my first date. And I realized that I could not say my date’s name. It had 2 ‘R’s in it, my nemesis, and so I called up my speech teacher and we practiced it for 10 minutes and it went good. So as a thank you, my mom sent her the piece I wrote about my apraxia. So, like, 3 hours later, I get an email from a teacher from my school wanting to have lunch with me. At first, it was like, oh gosh, what happened? Well apparently, my speech teacher sent it to her colleague, and her colleagues sent it to the parents they work with, and one of them was a teacher at my school. So her daughter just got diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech. And she wanted to know what her future would be like. And that’s what really changed it all for me. After that conversation, I came home, I told my mom about it. And I told her, why isn’t there a support group for people to connect? Like, kids, teens, And then she gave me, like, one of her looks and that was ultimately when I decided to try to start something, start a community.
Lauren Clouser [00:13:56]:
That’s awesome. Filling in need that you saw. That’s awesome. Could you talk to us a little bit more about why it’s so important to have this community of support? I think, you know, you touched on it a little earlier when you said it can feel like you’re alone a lot of the time. Could you tell us a little bit about the benefits of having a community of people that understand you?
Elina Csapo [00:14:17]:
So having that community definitely helps you not feel alone, knowing that there are others who are in the same boat as you or was in the same boat, who could offer some pieces of advice. And it helps you really not feel like an outcast, as sometimes I know when I was a girl, and even now sometimes, I feel like an outcast. But with that community, I can be myself, I don’t need to work as hard with my apraxia. I can just relax. And really the community gives love, hope for the future, a lot of empathy and a lot of understanding, and it’s just a place where people can really be their true authentic selves, and not feeling the pressure of trying to fit in or be perfect. As we all know that we are struggling with something, and we have that understanding.
Lauren Clouser [00:15:31]:
Well, and just a little bit more about the group too, is it just for people with apraxia, and what age groups are typically in Young Able Voices?
Elina Csapo [00:15:40]:
So I have a bunch of age groups, so I have from like, 8
Elina Csapo [00:15:48]:
to, like, twelve year olds, around that range, and then I have high schoolers slash middle schoolers. There’s weekly chats. It’s not just for people, kids, or teens with apraxia. It’s for anyone with any hidden disability dyslexia. or any sort of speech disorders, stuttering, all sorts.
Lauren Clouser [00:16:23]:
That’s awesome. So how can those who are interested, how can they start to join in? Do they just go to your website?
Elina Csapo [00:16:31]:
Yeah. So, they can go to www.youngablevoices.com, and on my website, as soon as you see, it tells you what Young Able Voices is. And then on the side, there are weekly chats and when you go in, you will select the chat of the week. And for the date and time, there was a link, and there’s going to be a calendar, and you can just click on the dates, that weekly chat and sign up. You can also reach out to me on my email at Elina@youngablevoices or through social media at Young Able Voices on Instagram and Facebook.
Lauren Clouser [00:17:20]:
That’s great. We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes so people can find it easily. And then, Elina, I just have one last question for you. And what are your plans for the future?
Elina Csapo [00:17:33]:
So, in the recent future I am planning a hidden disability summit at my school in mid-October, and planning to do stuff with Young Able Voices, as the 3rd week of October is invisible disability awareness week. And then my further future is going to college.
Lauren Clouser [00:18:05]:
Fantastic. Do you know what you wanna study? What are you gonna do?
Elina Csapo [00:18:10]:
I’m thinking about maybe doing a double major in business in psychology. But really my goal in life, or in my future career, is just to really help people the best I can.
Lauren Clouser [00:18:25]:
Absolutely. And it sounds like you’re already doing that with Young Able Voices. So before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask, is there anything else that you wanna talk about or mention that maybe I didn’t ask a question about?
Elina Csapo [00:18:39]:
Just wanna leave with one little thing. So definitely with my apraxia, I never felt normal. However, normal definitely doesn’t get you to where you will be in the future. So forging your own path, it’s scary, yeah, but it would get you farther in life than trying to fit in with everyone else. And it’s scary, but I will want to encourage people to try to be their best self, be their authentic self.
Lauren Clouser [00:19:26]:
I think that’s a great note to end on.
Elina Csapo [00:19:28]:
Lauren Clouser [00:19:29]:
Well, Elina, thank you so much for being on the show, and thank you so much for creating Young Able Voices where people can have a spot to feel safe and connect with others.
Elina Csapo [00:19:39]:
Thank you. And thank you both so much for inviting me. It was great talking with you.
Lauren Clouser [00:19:50]:
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