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Carlsbad teenager Ethan Hirschberg, 18, a senior at San Dieguito Academy with high functioning autism, received the Diller Teen Tikkum Olam Award and $36,000 from the Helen Diller Family Foundation on June 11 for his blog discussing issues with autism. Steve Puterski photo
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Carlsbad teen with autism lands award for community project

CARLSBAD — One local teenager is not letting autism slow him down.

Ethan Hirschberg, 18, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism early in life, but now he has become a bridge and advocate for those diagnosed across the spectrum. He created a blog and is a motivational speaker, author, budding businessman and soon-to-be high school graduate and college student.

On June 11, Ethan Hirschberg was one of 15 students across the country to be awarded the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, which recognizes teen leaders committing to change in the communities, according to the press release from the Helen Diller Family Foundation.

With the award, each recipient also receives $36,000 to continue their work and education.

“They told me and I couldn’t really talk for a good minute or so,” Ethan Hirschberg said when he heard the news of his award.

His blog, “The Journey Through Autism,” has resonated with parents, educators, professionals and those on the spectrum throughout the county and beyond. Ethan Hirschberg was encouraged to start the blog by his youth director from Craig Parks of Temple Solel in Cardiff.

But his odyssey to success and acceptance was long and difficult, said Shelly Hirschberg, Ethan’s mother. He was diagnosed at 2 and his difficulties include social situations, social etiquette and stuttering.

He was teased and bullied throughout elementary and middle school, she said. Friends were nonexistent until Ethan Hirschberg made his first friend in sixth grade.

“He really didn’t want to tell anyone he had autism,” Shelly Hirschberg said. “He saw it as something that was negative, which was natural.”

But once he got to San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas for high school, the treatment he once endured vanished, Shelly Hirschberg said. Life changed and Ethan Hirschberg became more confident in his abilities and began branching out.

On his blog, which he started in March 2017, Ethan Hirschberg shares his personal experiences, insights and advice regarding a variety of topics such as personal relationships, bullying, work and in special education.

“I wanted to start something that could help others in my same situation,” he said. “I give tips and advice when I just share my daily experiences.”

Parks figured Ethan Hirschberg was an ideal candidate for the award given out by the foundation. His blogging led to motivational speaking at elementary schools, therapy organizations and autism support groups.

One of Parks’ lessons was teaching the teens the creative versus victim theory, which challenges the students to create the life they want to live instead of feeling like a victim, Ethan Hirschberg said.

The lesson was the launching point for the Carlsbad teen to start his blog.

“It was an ah-ha moment,” he added. “It really struck a chord with me when I realize I could become a creator with my own experiences.”

This year’s award recipients include creators of nonprofits, educational initiatives, student-led volunteer programs and other projects, according to the foundation.

“Now more than ever, young people are on the front lines of change, leading the way for our communities and the world,” said Jackie Safier, president of the Helen Diller Family Foundation and Helen Diller’s daughter. “The 2019 Diller Teen ​Tikkun Olam​ Awardees are confronting the most difficult and divisive issues of our time by bringing passion, commitment and their own personal engagement. These teens remind us that people of any age can make a difference in the world, and they are inspirational examples for us all.”

Photo Caption: Carlsbad teenager Ethan Hirschberg, 18, a senior at San Dieguito Academy with high functioning autism, received the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award and $36,000 from the Helen Diller Family Foundation on June 11 for his blog discussing issues with autism. Steve Puterski photo