2023 Tim Howard Leadership Academy

Rutgers Plays Host to 10th Annual Leadership Academy for Teens with Tourette Syndrome

High school students learned about advocacy, self-leadership, and resilience from professionals and mentors as NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS) conducted their tenth Tim Howard Leadership Academy on the Busch Campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ on August 3 to 6.

Created in 2014 in partnership with former professional soccer player, current broadcaster, and Tourette Syndrome (TS) advocate, Tim Howard, the Academy is the only leadership program for teens diagnosed with TS in the nation. The 19 teens who participated this year represented seven states and Canada.

TS is a neurobiological disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements and sounds known as tics. As many as 1 in 50 school-aged children show signs of TS or other tic disorders, which are frequently accompanied by other mental health disorders including ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.

According to a survey conducted by the Tourette Association of America in 2022, 80% of students with TS felt that their tics negatively affected their school experience, 70% had experienced bullying due to their disorder, and 38% worry about being socially isolated.

Over the course of their four days on campus, when the participants were not interacting with doctors, psychologists, and other experts in the field to learn more about their TS, they had the opportunity to form connections with new friends through small group activities like scavenger hunts, vision board creation, and friendly games of kickball in the quad.

On Saturday, Sampled Labs provided a tour of the new home of the NJCTS Cell and DNA Repository and the group learned about the latest advances in TS research from Dr. Jay Tischfield of Rutgers and the TIC Genetics Research project. On Sunday, before things wrapped up for the weekend, Tim Howard participated in a Zoom Q&A with the teens and talked about the importance of telling their own story.

An application for the 2024 Tim  Howard Leadership Academy will be available later this Fall. High School students (or international equivalent) who have completed at least their Freshman year are eligible. Visit www.njcts.org/academy to learn more.

“The goal of the Academy is to have the teens leave with the ability to advocate for themselves and be ready to face an often misinformed public,” explained Academy Director Melissa Fowler. “With the lessons and skills they gain, and the goals they’ll set for themselves, this Academy class will step up to be the voice of awareness in their own communities. It will also give them a network of friends and professionals to help them on their journey.”