Jaylen’s challenge: Prevent bullying, create Tourette Syndrome awareness

Jaylen Arnold, 22, has spoken to more than 300,000 students in 38 states and the United Kingdom and has educated many more online about Tourette Syndrome.

LAKELAND, FLA – Jaylen Arnold was 8 when he walked into his old elementary school to speak with two dozen or so former classmates, many of whom had recently taunted and physically bullied him.

Jaylen was scared. His mother, Robin, walking beside him, was proud.

The meeting was Jaylen’s idea. He wanted to explain what others saw as his unusual life.

Jaylen has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes sudden unwanted and uncontrolled rapid and repeated movements or vocal sounds called tics. He was an easy target, and the abuse from his peers sent his tics into overdrive.

He was classified as hospital homebound by his doctor and Robin removed him from the school.

Jaylen, now a senior at Southeastern University in Lakeland, has been an advocate for those with Tourette Syndrome and those who have been bullied for the last 14 years.

An education choice scholarship was about to change Jaylen’s life for the better.

It allowed him to attend a private school near his Lakeland home. There, Jaylen found schoolmates who looked past his Tourette’s, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder and saw a likeable, intelligent and talented friend.

“He was accepted and loved,” Robin said.

It was acceptance and, if not love, at least tolerance that Jaylen wanted for others when he returned that day 14 years ago to his old school and met with his old classmates. He wanted to teach them about Tourette’s, hoping education would lead to understanding and that would reduce the bullying if not remove it completely.

“I wanted to go back and educate those who were tormenting me because who knows what kind of chain reaction that could have,” Jaylen, now 22, said.

There was a chain reaction, and it was nothing Jaylen or his mom envisioned.

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BY Roger Mooney

Roger Mooney is the marketing communications manager for Step Up For Students. He joined the organization after a career as a sports and features writer for several Florida newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times.