Freshman takes a seat on state Advisory Commission on Special Education

Hyla Rachwal is a President’s Scholar starting at CSULB this fall.

Freshman takes a seat on state Advisory Commission on Special Education

Courtesy of Hyla Rachwal

Hyla Rachwal

Hyla Rachwal has spent most of her life in special education, even though doctors could never diagnose her.

“They couldn’t figure out what my diagnosis was,” Rachwal said. “They put me on medications, and they didn’t work. It was a terrible situation.”

Now at 18 years old, Rachwal, an undeclared freshman who will start at Cal State Long Beach in the fall, has received a President’s Scholarship and been named to the State’s Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE).

According to the Calif. Department of Education website, the ACSE advises the State Board of Education, the governor and other entities on research, program development and evaluation of special education in the state.

As one of two students on the commission, Rachwal said she will serve a two-year term by bringing her experiences into her role.

“I think my past experience will give me an idea of what’s going on, and what things need to be changed and tweaked a little bit,” Rachwal said. “I’m knowledgeable on [special education].”

Rachwal said she suffered from a number of disorders as a child, including Tourette’s syndrome and difficulty controlling her emotions. Doctors also diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, though none of these encompassed all of her struggles.

“I really don’t like the diagnosis system,” she said. “They don’t really look at what your struggles might be. They just give you a name and say, ‘next.’”

However, after some online research, Rachwal’s mother found that her daughter’s symptoms perfectly suited those of Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).

PANDAS, as defined by the National Institute of Public Health, is used to describe children with OCD and/or tic disorders whose symptoms worsen after they’ve had streptococcal infections, such as “strep throat.”

After learning about PANDAS, Rachwal said she received an individualized education. She was homeschooled until the sixth grade and attended Westview School — a private school that serves students with learning differences — in Los Angeles for high school. She also participated in an ice theater team for three years and sang opera as a sophomore and junior.

“Those really just helped me work on myself,” she said. “After my issues started to heal … I was working on myself and trying to pull through.”

Rachwal said meeting an education lobbyist during a field trip to Sacramento inspired her to follow a career path in government or law.

“[The lobbyist’s] job seemed really exciting to me,” she said. “I like change. I like variation in what I’m doing every day. Her job was never the same, and she was really making a difference.”

After graduating from Westview School as valedictorian, Rachwal said she fully intended on attending University of California, Davis, until she learned of her acceptance into CSULB’s President’s Scholars program and received a full academic scholarship.

“After I got off the phone … I was freaking out,” she said. “My parents were crying. I had to call my counselor, who told me about the scholarship.”

As she prepares for her upcoming freshman year, Rachwal said she looks forward to the opportunities at CSULB, including the multiple clubs and organizations on campus.

But before she moves into the residential halls on Saturday, she’ll fly to Sacramento on Monday to meet with the ACSE for the first time.