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Dix Hills teen inspires tolerance in others

Lee Gochman doesn’t yell out randomly. He doesn’t mumble incoherently. He rarely has noticeable tics, like abnormal blinking or twitching. But he does have Tourette Syndrome.

The disorder was diagnosed when he was 9 years old, after his parents and teachers noticed that school had become difficult. He was easily frustrated and stressed, and took longer to complete work than most students.

It was difficult to adjust, said Gochman, 18, of Dix Hills, both academically and socially.

“It was frustrating and sad,” he said. “But we wanted to make a better situation out of it.”

When Gochman reached high school, he and his parents joined a local chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association, a national support group. Over the years and with the help of the association, Gochman, who has a mild case of TS, became comfortable with his disability, and focused on helping others.

Since then, Gochman has traveled around Long Island and upstate, and has even been to Washington, D.C., teaching lessons on tolerance to students.

To a room full of first- and second-graders at Forest Park Elementary School in Dix Hills on Thursday, Gochman compared himself with anyone else who has had an illness since birth.

“Just like allergies or asthma,” he said. “You wouldn’t make fun of someone who had Tourette Syndrome. It just wouldn’t make any sense.”

Gochman was one of more than 20 youths in the community recently honored by the Lubavitch Chai Center in Dix Hills. Program coordinator Nati Einav said the Jewish center realized many of the students who study and worship there were very involved in their communities. The center wanted to reward them.

“These teens could be doing anything,” Einav said. “They are taking their time and thinking about how they can make a difference and thinking about the future.”

Gochman won a second-place, a $200 scholarship, at the awards ceremony on May 23. For his volunteer work, Gochman said he has been given about $2,000 in scholarship money from various organizations as he graduates from Half Hollow Hills High School West this month. He plans to enroll at American University in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

Gochman’s mother, Sue, said she has been very proud watching her son not only overcome a disability, but using it to do something good.

“He was very shy at first,” she said. “Through this process, he’s gotten his voice.”

She said she knows her son is making a difference, because when she has watched him struggle through the isolation the disease can cause.

“There have been so many rewards along the way,” she said. “We’ve come full circle to say he’s now doing something for the community.”

Gochman hopes to become a politician or a lawyer so he can protect the rights of others with disabilities.

Standing in front of the students on Thursday, speaking with ease in front of hundreds, he held up a teal bracelet from the Tourette Syndrome Association that he wears. The rubber band is imprinted with the association’s website and the word ‘Inspire.’

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Gochman said.

Photo: Lee Gochman, 18, of Dix Hills, gives tolerance lessons in schools and helps counsel other children with Tourette Syndrome.

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