Billy Dering has made it his mission to educate people and to raise funds and awareness about Tourette Syndrome. He is part of the one in one hundred children that exhibit symptoms of Tourette Syndrome and other tic disorders.
Dering, a 16-year-old junior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, was first diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when he was six years old. He experiences uncontrollable twitching, eye blinking, shoulder shrugging and throat clearing among other tics.
He began advocating for Tourette Syndrome when he gave a speech at his high school about threatened cuts in funding to the band program. Dering plays the flute and says it lessens the severity of his tics. His speech was so well-received that he’s been asked to give more speeches educating people about the Syndrome.
“When we are comfortable with our disability enough to speak about it, whether publicly or privately, we can overcome some of the hold it has on us,” said Dering. “An interesting aspect of Tourette Syndrome is that when we do an activity that we enjoy or are very focused on, the symptoms of TS temporarily decrease. For me, public speaking is one of those activities.”
He is now involved in the Tourette Syndrome Association's Youth Ambassador Program, which advocates for the syndrome on Capitol Hill for legislation to increase research dollars as well as money to educate people about it.
“I think that one of the most crucial things someone like me can do to improve the lives of people with Tourette Syndrome is to raise public awareness of it,” said Dering. “By talking to people who may not have heard of it, or have their own cultural impressions of the disability, Youth Ambassadors can combat some of the stereotypes shrouding people who have Tourette Syndrome.”
He says that it is important to speak in schools to help students understand and empathize with the struggle their peers who have Tourette Syndrome experience.
Dering attended a meeting with Representative John Dingell in Ann Arbor and with his staff in Washington, D.C. Those experiences and speaking at schools in Ann Arbor has inspired his plan to pursue a college education in public policy and to one day, he says, “be elected to the U.S. Congress.”
For more information on Tourette Syndrome, go to www.tsa-usa.org.