This month, PBS is airing a powerful and inspiring new documentary, Different is the New Normal. Narrated by Michael J. Fox, the documentary focuses on Ariel Small, a teenager with Tourette’s Syndrome who has chosen as his mission to help others learn more about this widely misunderstood syndrome and to improve life for those who suffer from it. The film uses interviews with Ariel conducted by his mom, his video diary, interviews with family, friends, and school officials, and archival family videos to tell Ariel’s story.
Ariel was six years old when his parents realized that he was exhibiting odd facial tics such as eye-rolling and opening his mouth very widely and that he did not seem to have any control over these movements. Doctors diagnosed him with Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition which causes not only uncontrollable movements of the face and body, but often has other manifestations such as outbursts of anger and other behavioral disorders. In Ariel’s case, he also developed extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which requires him to constantly perform certain rituals, such as turning on and off the lights a set number of times and keeping everything in his room in a set order at all times.
Tourette’s Syndrome and its associated conditions caused Ariel to struggle in school, despite being exceptionally bright. Teachers and other students often did not understand his condition and reacted in ways that only made things worse. But with the help of his extremely supportive mother and father, he managed to overcome these difficulties and, by high school, he had friends, was in honors classes, and was involved in sports.
Also in high school, Ariel began to visit schools, police departments, and conferences to talk about Tourette’s and OCD and to try to foster understanding and possibly save other children with Tourette’s some of the problems he had.
This film, which was financed by Ariel’s parents, is eye-opening and interesting. The documentary also featuresAmerican Idol finalist who also suffers from Tourette’s., and who made the comment which inspired the title.
More than 200,000 Americans have Tourette’s Syndrome, which manifests in many ways, some minor and some more extreme. The story of this brave young man who is so much more than just his condition will educate, inspire and inform us all to be more accepting of those who are different, whether because of Tourette’s or any other reason.
A special two-disc edition of the video is also available at the Different is the New Normal website.