Stories of Asperger’s and Tourette Syndrome shared with students and teachers NSE/SIB K-8 welcomes differences for ‘Day of Inclusion’

Connor Cunningham and Co.

Pictured are (l-r) Officer Patty Gonzalez, Kitty Dumas, Connor Cunningham

Hundreds of our city’s 3rd and 4th grade students sat with mouths agape as one of their teachers shared her personal story of raising a child with Tourette’s syndrome. Excited hands popped up and hushed voices chatted as she took questions. Is it contagious? Does he say bad words? Was he bullied? Can he control it?

Her son, who is now in college, graduated from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School. An accomplished athlete and good student, he found high school exceptionally challenging. Her son was born with Tourette’s, which is a neurological disorder that has various degrees of severity for those it effects. It can force involuntary bodily movements such as eye-blinking, throat-clearing, shoulder-shrugging or jumping. The disorder is controlled with medication as well as other techniques, such as playing sports, meditation and relaxation.

She said fellow students found him outrageous, and because he was tall and athletic, he was popular and not bullied much. “Teachers however had no patience for him, so he spent most of high school in the AP office filing,” she said. “He still has ticks, like tapping his cellphone on the ground four times.”

Other speakers talked about living with Asperger’s at NSE/SIB K-8 “Day of Inclusion,” a morning for students to learn about the real experiences of exceptional teens and their parents.

The event was made possible by a special grant from the National PTA, and was sponsored by Officer Gonzalez and the SIB PTSA. School Administrators and SIB PTSA in collaboration with Officer Gonzalez and the city of Sunny Isles Beach, organized the morning, the second day of inclusion offered at NSE/SIB K-8. The idea came when Officer Gonzalez and the SIB PTSA discussed how another school did a similar event last year.

Connor, a student with Asperger’s, at Palmetto Senior High School traveled with his mother, Kitty, who also spoke at this event. “Rather than see it as a disability, Asperger’s is part of who I am, it means I have challenges to deal with every day,” Connor said. “Birthday parties and movies were painfully loud.”

Connor talked about how it is challenging to make and keep friends and a deep desire to be part of a group. This candid exchange with the students kept the large group engaged and asking lots of questions. The group also watched a prerecorded video of Jack Lebersfeld, 13, who told the students about his Asperger’s syndrome.

NSE/SIB K-8 Principal, Dr. Weissman said she was deeply moved by the presentations, especially Connor’s openness about being hassled by peers.

“I now see how being different can be cool,” said Oliver, 9, “If kids think these kids are weird, they need to realize it’s not their fault.”

Not only children benefited from the event, teachers and administrators were moved to tears after hearing the speakers. Ms. Virreira, a 3rd grade teacher said, “It is important as educators to teach our children about tolerance and acceptance of all children. They have the power to make good choices of respecting, accepting, and including children from all walks of life into their lives and form lifelong friendships and bonds.”

Together with the SIB PTSA and Officer Gonzalez, NSE/SIB K-8 plans to continue this event into the 2014-2015 school year. Tolerance and acceptance are the key characters to eradicate bullying. Our speakers visibly affected the children, especially Connor, who they all now look up to as a really cool kid…who happens to have Asperger’s. Please see our video from our first event, which was held on March 20th 2014.

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