Youth Ambassadors (YAs) are teens with TS or teens whose lives have been touched by TS. Formally trained in public speaking and in conducting peer-to-peer presentations in schools and community settings, YAs foster understanding, sensitivity and tolerance of TS and its symptoms. Their presentations dispel myths and stereotypes frequently associated with this often misunderstood and misdiagnosed disorder. By educating others, YAs ensure that their generation will grow up with a better understanding of TS – helping to make biases and bullying things of the past.
like to play in presenting information. Then partner with the school to put the program in place. If your child’s classroom teacher seems approachable and receptive, then a discussion with the teacher is a good place to start. Alternatively, you may want to begin by approaching another member of the school’s professional staff, e.g., psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor or special educator. With such an individual on board, the next step will be obtaining the permission of the school administration.
Administrators tend to be more receptive if you can provide them with specific information about the type of presentation you are planning. Administrators appreciate it when the presentation does not disrupt the school’s schedule. Propose a presentation length that fits within a typical classroom lesson or story time for younger children, or a class period for older students. It will be helpful to provide Administrators with an overview of the presentation or the ability to speak informally with a representative of your local TAA chapter should you opt for a formal Youth Ambassador presentation.
The planning, presentation details and logistics may vary depending upon your child’s preferences and the age of the audience.
TS can be explained in a way that is developmentally appropriate for first graders. Once educated, classmates will likely be more understanding and accepting of your child’s symptoms and behaviors. Talk to the teacher to see if a presentation can be arranged right at the start of the school year, so that the class starts off on the right foot.
A classroom discussion of TS can take several forms. Your child, with your support and the assistance of the teacher, might choose to play an active role if comfortable doing so. You and your child might prepare a script to explain the tics. Describe what tics are (not the bug!), that they are not contagious, that your child can’t help ticcing, just like someone can’t help a sneeze, and that it’s a medical problem, just like asthma or allergies. Let classmates know that your child does not tic on purpose for attention or to be annoying. See Appendix A for a sample script with first through third graders.
Alternatively, or in addition, you, the teacher or Youth Ambassador may want to read a short story about TS to the class. Stories for that grade level include Matthew and the Tics or Taking Tourette to School.
Youth Ambassadors receive feedback following peer presentations. They report that children, including the child with TS, find this type of presentation “fun” and the child with TS feels “special” in a good and positive way.
Whatever form the presentation takes, collaborate with the teacher to make sure it is geared toward the ability level and attention span of the class. Prepare your child in advance for common questions classmates may ask about tics, such as: “Do tics hurt?”, “Do you take medicine for it?”, “Will it ever go away?”. These questions may come up during the presentation or at some later point. Practice with your child giving some prepared responses, and devise a signal in case he or she needs your help responding to a question at the presentation.
The transition to middle school is frequently a time when parents and children start to think about the need to educate a broader community of peers about TS. While your child may have been with a familiar cohort of classmates until now, the social sphere is now enlarging. In middle school students have half a dozen new teachers and meet dozens of new children. Your child will have multiple classes with unfamiliar classmates, who may have limited opportunity to get to know your child well. It is important to plan ahead and strategize prior to the start of middle school, since the stress of this transition and the accompanying new academic and social demands may lead to an increase in tics for some children.
Discuss the upcoming challenge of meeting new people, and brainstorm with your child about strategies to ease that process. Explore with him or her approaches that have worked well in the past, including how your child has explained TS to current friends, and ways to duplicate these successes in a new school.
You may also want to take an active role in helping your child stay connected with any current supportive friends.
The reaction of new peers is less likely to be negative once TS is explained to them. Your child, you, and a TAA Youth Ambassador may want to collaborate on a peer presentation. There is a wonderful scene in the TAA-HBO documentary I Have Tourette’s but Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me, in which William is shown teaching his class about TS. You may want to view that scene together with your child to spark a discussion.
However, at this stage in development you may find your child more reluctant to talk about TS with peers than during elementary school years. Tweens in general are eager to fit in — not shine a spotlight on their differences. If this is the case for your child, then consider having the school frame a Youth Ambassador Presentation as part of a larger school-wide or grade-wide health or anti-bullying initiative to educate all students about understanding and respecting differences.
Youth Ambassadors report back that middle schoolers tend to be receptive audiences. During Q&A, middle school peers express empathy and respect for students facing the challenges of TS and other differences. Middle school students with TS have shared that whether or not they actively participated in the presentation, they felt more comfortable in their own schools after Youth Ambassadors educated their classmates.
By high school, your teen should be honing self-advocacy skills. To do so, your teen needs to feel comfortable discussing symptoms with peers and teachers. Some teens may find it helpful to role-play ways to respond to peers’ (and teachers’) questions or comments about tics. If your teen can take a matter-of-fact attitude in explaining tics to peers, they will be more likely to say “whatever” and move on. Most adolescents are far more preoccupied with themselves than with others. You may also want to help your teen identify a counselor at school to approach if he or she encounters any social difficulties.
Some high school students may want to do a presentation about TS in a health class, psychology class, or similar forum. Some may be reluctant to be peer educators in their own high schools because they do not want to be identified as having TS, but they may be comfortable having other teens with TS present at their schools. Some others prefer to talk about TS with their peers one-on-one.
High School audiences are generally more sophisticated. Peer presenters will need to be more versed in scientific, sociological and psychological information and terminology.