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Fifth-grader is Stepping Up Awareness Efforts

Kyle Swords of Pine Brook, NJ with NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden at a recent presentation at the Hilldale Elementary School.

Kyle Swords of Pine Brook, NJ with NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden at a recent presentation at the Hilldale Elementary School.

An inspiring 10 year old is quickly becoming his own best advocate.

Kyle Swords of Pine Brook, NJ, is educating his community about an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed disorder which he faces every day. In kindergarten, he started developing tics and 2 years ago he was officially diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS)—a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements or sounds known as tics. TS affects as many as 1 in 100 people, or an estimated 20,000 school-age children in New Jersey today.

Accepting the diagnosis wasn’t easy at first for Kyle and his family but, over the summer, he attended the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS) Team Up with Tim Howard event at Rutgers and it changed his outlook on TS.

“Prior to this event, Kyle had never met other children his age who also have Tourette,” said his mother, Christina Swords. “It was an incredibly powerful experience for him to see so many other people, including [U.S. Men’s National Team Goalkeeper] Tim Howard, who share his condition. For the first time, having TS felt special to Kyle, and even a little bit ‘cool.’”

So, Kyle and his family decided it was time to educate their community about TS.

Hilldale Elementary School student and his family are giving back, supporting other families affected by Tourette Syndrome in their community.

Hilldale Elementary School student and his family are giving back, supporting other families affected by Tourette Syndrome in their community.

“People are often wary of behaviors they don’t understand and as such, we felt that a great way to support Kyle would be to bring awareness to the school about his condition,” said Christina.

The Swords’s reached out to NJCTS Education Outreach Coordinator Gina Maria Jones to schedule a Youth Advocate Presentation at Kyle’s school. With the help of NJCTS Youth Advocate Mike Hayden, Kyle educated more than 150 4th- and 5th-graders at Hilldale Elementary School about TS and about treating others with respect. Kyle bravely addressed the audience and answered some questions about his experience with TS.

Kyle stood proud after the presentation, knowing he had the support and understanding of his teachers and classmates.

“I’m not so worried about my tics anymore,” said Kyle. “Everyone understands that it’s just my TS.” If there is one thing Kyle wants people to know, it’s that “Kids with TS can do anything that kids without TS can do.”

Kyle is also serving on the Youth Committee of NJ Walks for TS at Mendham coming up on Saturday, November 14. Youth Committee members serve as local examples of individuals living successfully with TS—they form teams, fund-raise, and inspire others to join them for a day of awareness and advocacy on behalf of all individuals living with the challenges of TS.

NJ Walks for TS benefits the NJCTS Education Outreach Program, providing in-service trainings and Youth Advocate presentations to schools and hospitals across the state. The program is making it possible for NJCTS to provide the latest information to help professionals identify, diagnose and manage TS and its associated disorders.

“As a family, our goal is to spread awareness of TS into our community,” said Christina. “We want to give back and support other families in the community in any way possible.”

NJ Walks for TS at Mendham is set for Saturday, Nov. 14th at Mendham Borough Park at the intersection of Mountain and Park Avenues. The event is rain or shine and check-in will begin at 8 a.m. For more information about the event, or to learn more about Tourette Syndrome, visit www.njcts.org.

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