Isabella Sicilian, a 10th grade student at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, Queens described fighting against bullying in her essay “How Can I Lead My School and Community to Become a Bully-Free Place for Individuals With Autism and Developmental Disabilities.” While Sicilian does not have autism herself, her essay passionately advocated increasing inclusion and advocacy for people on the spectrum. The competition was open to both public and private schools and had a result of over 70 student submissions.
According to a report this month by QNS.com, the essay tied for second place in the fifth annual essay competition sponsored by Life’s WORC/The Family Center for Autism, Schneps Media and The Claire Friedlander Family Foundation. To resolve the tie, the judges combined the prizes for second and third place which combined awarded $2,500 to both Sicilian and her fellow second-place winner, 11th grader Samantha Mack. She was commended for speaking out on what is considered a “crisis that is affecting a number of students: incidents of bullying and how this can be prevented” Peter J Klein.
“One suggestion that would greatly aid the development of bully-free zones in schools would be the offering of classes and workshops that would educate students on how to treat those around them,” Sicilian wrote in her essay, “specifically if they have developmental disabilities. Growing up, we are often told to “treat everyone equally” regardless of who they are. However, sometimes, those with developmental disabilities may require special attention in order to form bonds with other people.”
Sicilian also suggested implementing classes and workshops in schools to help students learn more positive techniques for interacting with autistic peers, such as using non-verbal communication when they show anxiety, and always using the student with autism’s name at the beginning of a verbal address, so they know they’re being referred to. She recommended “peer tutoring,” which would lessen the divide between students with and without autism by encouraging social interactions. Sicilian also described ways that she herself would contribute to promoting unity and inclusion.
“Personally, I could help lead this effort of inclusion and unification by educating myself using trusted resources, such as websites and videos from professionals, to learn more about the techniques that could make it easier to form meaningful conversations with my peers who have developmental disabilities,” Sicilian wrote. “This way I could form new friendships and comfort them if they ever feel isolated or alone.”
She added that “by unifying different students in different classrooms, I can work toward the prevention of bullying in my school and community towards those with autism and other developmental disabilities. Unification can end this divide.”