2016 NJCTS Youth Scholarship Award Essay: “Living with Tourette Syndrome”

This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2016 Youth Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it!

MichaelS

MichaelS

I pondered what it meant when I was diagnosed with Tourettes. The doctor explained to me there was no cure, and that with time it’d get better, but he said Tourettes will be a part of my life forever. I had finally figured out the answer as to why I constantly rolled my eyes, or why I occasionally let out an obnoxious vocal sound. As a confused 4th grader, I didn’t realize this would soon become part of my identity. After the diagnosis I was uneasy about telling people, even my close friends, why I did all these strange things. I was scared they’d think of me differently or put a label on me. Every time my classmates asked about it, I’d reply with an indifferent “I don’t know.”

I remember showing up to a basketball camp and as we were huddled around a coach, he was lecturing us. My eyes rolled uncontrollably. He stood up and then scolded me, talking about how disrespectful I was and I was forced to run to the point where I felt like I had to throw up. I was too frightened to tell him it was because of Tourettes. After that fiasco, I realized it was time to tell people.

It took me 3 years to finally muster up the courage to tell a couple of my close friends why I had been rolling my eyes, crinkling my nose, and letting out vocal sounds. I explained to them that they were called tics that unfortunately forced me to do some strange things. I told them I couldn’t suppress these tics or else I would feel like I couldn’t breathe. I was nervous as to how they would react. I didn’t want them to think of me differently. They all essentially said the same thing: “It doesn’t matter; you’re not different; you having Tourettes doesn’t change anything.” I was shocked. I thought I’d receive some questions, but everything was alright.

Sure there were instances throughout my life where people asked questions and said mean things. Soon I realized that having Tourettes was a blessing in disguise: I was able to talk to people and educate them on Tourettes. I was trying to eliminate the stereotype that all people with Tourettes curse excessively or are constantly mumbling random words. After telling people about my neurological disorder I became cognizant of that fact that this was me, I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to.

As I got older, more and more people began to put a face to Tourettes and it was mine. I was uncomfortable with this at first, but it was a component of who I am; I’m not complete without Tourettes. People were able to see that anyone can have Tourettes and that sometimes we may not even know they do. Without Tourettes I feel like I’d be a different person, maybe a little more normal, but “normal” can be boring. Tourettes is a part of who I am: it’s an essential part of my identity. As I grow up, I realize it will forever be a part of me: maybe a small part, but a part nonetheless.

 

Hillsdale Teen Inspires his Community to Tackle Tourette Syndrome

NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden and T3 co-organizer Meghan McIntyre welcome NJCTS Education Outreach Coordinator Gina Maria Jones at the Teens Tackle Tourette's walk on May 22, 2016.

NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden and T3 co-organizer Meghan McIntyre welcome NJCTS Education Outreach Coordinator Gina Maria Jones at the Teens Tackle Tourette’s walk.

Mike Hayden is taking his Tourette Syndrome advocacy efforts to the next level.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements or sounds known as tics and is frequently accompanied by other neurological or mental health disorders. 1 in 100 school-age children lives with TS and many report feelings of isolation and have been bullied because of their disorder.

Hayden, now 16-years-old, was diagnosed with TS in fourth grade although he started showing symptoms in kindergarten. In 2012, he decided that he wasn’t going to let his diagnosis hold him back so he stepped up to become a Youth Advocate for the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, Inc. (NJCTS).

NJCTS Youth Advocates lead presentations about TS in schools and community groups to raise awareness, promote understanding and tolerance, and deliver a strong anti-bullying message. They also present with NJCTS-partner doctors at hospitals to educate medical professionals about TS.

When it was time for Hayden’s honors English class at Pascack Valley High School to choose an issue to which to bring attention for their final project, Hayden shared his personal journey with TS and the class was instantly inspired. They organized the group “Teens Tackle Tourette’s” and spent the school year organizing, promoting, and producing a fundraising walk.

“It was an incredible feeling to know that my class truly cared about this cause,” said Hayden. “They knew it was close to my heart and I had many people tell me that there was no question in their mind that this is the cause they wanted to support. It is amazing that they would support me in raising awareness for this issue that many people are incorrectly educated on.”

Hayden recalled that when his family needed help after he received his TS diagnosis they called NJCTS for education and support. To better educate his classmates, he decided to partner with NJCTS Education Outreach Coordinator Gina Maria Jones and Executive Director Faith Rice for a series of in-class presentations about Tourette Syndrome and associated disorders.

“I figured that if we were going to learn about TS, we might as well get the experts in to help teach us,” said Hayden on reaching out to NJCTS for guidance. “I have had many years of experience with NJCTS, so I know that they are truly the best of the best when it comes to education and outreach.”

The Teens Tackle Tourette’s T3 walk took place on May 22 at the Pascack Valley High School Campus and raised more than $1,120 which was donated to NJCTS. During the walk, there were several guest speakers as well as food, games, and giveaways.

“NJCTS is proud to work with young people who take the initiative to raise awareness,” said Education Outreach Coordinator Gina Maria Jones. “It is because of Youth Advocates like Mike that our Youth Development programs are so successful and we hope that all kids living with TS will follow in his footsteps.”

Soon after hosting the Teens Tackle Tourette’s walk, Hayden led a Youth Advocate presentation to 150 fifth graders at Fairmount School in Hackensack on May 24 and delivered the keynote address at the Dare to Dream Student Leadership Conference at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ on May 25.

“Youth Advocates like Mike Hayden live out the mission of NJCTS and advance public perception, understanding and acceptance of people with TS and associated disorders,” said NJCTS Executive Director Faith Rice. “We are so proud of everything Mike has accomplished.

BRTV Morning Show interviews Girl Scouts about their efforts to raise awareness of TS

Ilina, Jaclyn, and Cami from Girl Scout Troop 60808 were interviewed by the Bridgewater Raritan High School’s morning news show about their effort to raise awareness for Tourette Syndrome. They want everyone to wear blue on Friday in recognition of Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day in New Jersey on June 4th. Way to go, girls!

Teens tackle Tourette’s with fundraising walk

NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden inspired his high school English class to organize, promote, and host a TS awareness event with “Teens Tackle Tourette’s.” They recently held their main event by hosting an awareness walk on their HS campus. Over the past few months, NJCTS and Mike have educated his class about Tourette Syndrome and answered questions about the misunderstood disorder. The T3 students are a passionate group and we are so proud of all they have accomplished. Check back soon for more pictures and details.

A group of students enjoy the Teens Tackle Tourette's (T3) walk, held at Pascack Hills High School on Sunday, May 22. The class raised more than $1,120 for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome. Pascack Hills student Michael Hayden poses with Dr. David Levesque, of Westwood. The two have Tourette syndrome and have made it their mission to spread the word about the disease.

A group of students enjoy the Teens Tackle Tourette’s (T3) walk, held at Pascack Hills High School on Sunday, May 22. The class raised more than $1,120 for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome. Pascack Hills student Michael Hayden poses with Dr. David Levesque, of Westwood. The two have Tourette syndrome and have made it their mission to spread the word about the disease.

Read the story in Pascack Valley Community Life.

Watch NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski’s interview on ABC’ NJ Viewpoint

We are so proud of NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski and Tim Kowalski who were interviewed by ABC’s Ken Rosato for NJ Viewpoint. Thank you for representing NJCTS and for all you continue to do to raise Tourette Syndrome awareness! If you missed the segment that aired on Sunday you can watch it here. Bravo!

Skier races toward Tourette Syndrome Awareness

Kyla Butler and her family received a proclamation from Jefferson Township Mayor Russell Felter which recognizes June 4th as TS Awareness Day.

Kyla Butler and her family received a proclamation from Jefferson Township Mayor Russell Felter which recognizes June 4th as TS Awareness Day.

Kyla Butler of Oak Ridge, NJ, is making a name for herself not only as one of the top skiers in the tri-state area but also as an advocate for Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements or sounds known as tics and is frequently accompanied by other neurological or mental health disorders. 1 in 100 school-age children lives with TS and many report feelings of isolation and have been bullied because of their disorder.

Kyla was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in third grade but she never let it hold her back. This past March, Kyla represented the state of New Jersey in Gilford, New Hampshire at the Pice Invitational Ski Race for the second year in a row. She was invited to participate in this race after placing in the top 10 in her age group and third in New Jersey this year.

Now, this sixth grader strives to raise awareness of this misunderstood, misdiagnosed disorder and she is starting in her own backyard. On May 18, 2016, Kyla met with Mayor Russell Felter and asked him to recognize June 4th as Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day in Jefferson Township.

Kyla encourages everyone to learn more about Tourette Syndrome to combat the stigma these children face. Her efforts represent the spirit of The GreaTS movement which recently was launched by the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, Inc (NJCTS) and soccer star Tim Howard. The GreaTS is a worldwide movement which aims to help individuals with TS and associated mental health disorders develop the confidence, leadership, and self-advocacy skills necessary to overcome their challenges and find their own paths to personal greatness.

“We applaud Kyla’s good work and she is part of a statewide effort to have June 4th recognized as Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day in every corner of New Jersey,” said NJCTS Executive Director Faith W. Rice. “By educating others, we hope that each new generation will grow up with a better understanding of TS, making biases a thing of the past. Kyla is truly One of The GreaTS!”

The Butler Family proudly displays their Mayor's proclamation

The Butler Family proudly displays their Mayor’s proclamation

Watch for One of The GreaTS on ABC’s NJ Viewpoint

We are so proud of NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski and Tim Kowalski who were recently interviewed by ABC’s Ken Rosato for NJ Viewpoint. Thank you for representing NJCTS and for all you continue to do to raise Tourette Syndrome awareness! Tune in to ABC on May 29 at 5:30am. And in case you miss it, we’ll be sharing the clip here too. #StandWithTheGreaTS

ABC Host Ken Rosato interviewed NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski and Tim Kowalski for an upcoming episode of NJ Viewpoint.

ABC Host Ken Rosato interviewed NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski and Tim Kowalski for an upcoming episode of NJ Viewpoint.

ABC Host Ken Rosato sits down with Tim and Tess Kowalski and John Miller of the Tourette Association of America to discuss TS advocacy in the region.

ABC Host Ken Rosato sits down with Tim and Tess Kowalski of NJCTS and John Miller of the Tourette Association of America to discuss TS advocacy in the region.

NJCTS Youth Advocate Mary Kate Donahue delivers keynote address at Dare to Dream Conference

NJCTS Youth Advocate Mary Kate Donahue delivered the keynote address at the 2016 Dare to Dream Student Leadership Conference at Stockton University on May 9.

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This wasn’t Mary Kate’s first rodeo. She is an accomplished speaker and children’s book author and she loves sharing her story. As a student at Stockton University, she was honored to have the opportunity to inspire high school students visiting her campus.

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“This was an amazing experience,” said Mary Kate. “The kids were awesome and ready to be educated. They were so eager to learn and they are the reason I love doing things like this!”

We’re proud of you, Mary Kate! You are One of The GreaTS!

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NJCTS Youth Advocate Mary Kate Donahue with Dare to Dream MC LeDerick Horne

 

The GreaTS have arrived!

TheGreaTS_NJCTS_BannerChange the world. Stand With The GreaTS! Join the global community to break down social stigmas, create awareness, and provide support resources around Tourette Syndrome. This is your chance to make a difference. Get involved today at standwiththegreats.org. Share your message of support using #standwiththegreats.

NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski delivers keynote address at Dare to Dream Conference

Dare to dream

NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski delivered a moving keynote address at the 2016 Dare to Dream Student Leadership Conference at Mercer County Community College on April 29.

The New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs sponsors regional Dare to Dream Student Leadership conferences that highlight strategies and information to prepare high school students with disabilities for college and career readiness. Each conference features keynote presentations from accomplished students and young adults with disabilities who have demonstrated exemplary self-advocacy and leadership skills.

As teens and young adults living with Tourette Syndrome—a misunderstood, misdiagnosed neurological disorder characterized by involuntary sounds and movements known as tics—NJCTS Youth Advocates are uniquely positioned to speak to and inspire others who are overcoming obstacles. Advocates are trained to educate others about Tourette Syndrome promoting acceptance, tolerance, self-advocacy, and leadership.

“Tess did an outstanding job at the Mercer conference,” said Bob Haugh, Project Coordinator for Dare to Dream. And we couldn’t agree more!

NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski delivers keynote address at the Dare to Dream conference at Mercer County Community College.

NJCTS Youth Advocate Tess Kowalski delivers keynote address at the Dare to Dream conference at Mercer County Community College.