Teen leads fight against Tourette Syndrome

January 13, 2010 9:59:34 AM PST
A north suburban teenager is speaking out about living with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder that is often misunderstood.Uncontrollable ticking provoked 15-year-old Ariel Small to set high standards for himself. The captain of his freshman football team, MVP freshman wrestler and Tourette Syndrome Association youth ambassador, nothing is going to stop Small from achieving his goals.

"I've got goals to validate, to advocate and to educate," he told ABC7 Chicago.

Small is athletic, smart, good-looking and living with Tourette Syndrome. He was diagnosed at the age of 6.

"I remember starting off with facial ticks, blinking a lot, and I was kind of sticking out my tongue. And I would make a little bit of noises, and my parents were a bit confused at first, like they didn't really know, like all I was trying to get was attention," Small said.

School was tough for him.

"In elementary school, I didn't really have a lot of friends, and I think kids avoided me a little bit, and kids were kind of teasing me about it," said Small.

The teen's mother, Robin, says she remembers when it all started.

"It was right after we had our fifth child, Ariel was doing a lot of blinking, and kind of eye rolling, and making a lot of movements with his mouth. And, you know, at first, we thought that maybe it was stress of a new sibling," she said.

After being told Ariel had Tourette Syndrome, his family didn't know what it really meant.

"All I knew about Tourette Syndrome was like the stereotypical things that you hear, where, you know, I was thinking, 'Is he going to start blurting out curse words or making really loud noises?' I really didn't think the things that he was doing were Tourette," the mother said.

Looking at Ariel Small, one might never know he has the condition.

"I can kind of feel like a tick coming on," he said. "When I feel them coming out, I can sometimes try to delay it, kind of like a hiccup. You can feel the hiccup coming on, but you can't really stop it completely."

The teen boy takes medication, which helps.

"But hopefully, I won't need it in the future," Small said.

As an educator and youth ambassador on Tourette Syndrome, Ariel Small has expanded his role with a documentary that is currently being produced on his life with this disability.

"I think that it's essential for these teachers to know what it is and the spectrum of Tourettes. So, for the kids, I think that educating kids at an early age, you know, like elementary school and middle school, are important because then, you know they know from so early before they start to you maybe encounter people with it," said Small.

"I'm Ariel Small. I'm not Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome is a part of me, you know. I have it, but it's not me, and that's just a part of who I am," he said.

For more information on Ariel Small or the Tourette Syndrome Association and its youth ambassador program, please visit www.arielsmall.com and www.tsa-usa.org.