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Different is the New Normal: A Q&A with Ariel and Robin Small

By Michelle Michalos
Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
  • comments (23)

Robin Small, American Idol's James Durbin, and Ariel Small (Photo courtesy of John Block)

Different is the New Normal takes a closer look at Tourette Syndrome through the lens of Ariel Small, a teenage boy who grew up with Tourette’s. Small overcomes the difficulties of his condition and inspires others to do the same by raising awareness about Tourette Syndrome as a Youth Ambassador. Here, Ariel and his mother, Robin Small, discuss the film, the future, and embracing differences in order to succeed.

Different is the New Normal airs Thursday, September 15 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen: Robin, when did you first notice that something was different about Ariel?

Robin Small: Ariel’s Tourette’s started to show itself when he was six.  His first symptoms were facial ticking, blinking, twitching, rolling his eyes and sticking out his tongue.

Different is the New Normal (2011) – Trailer from Hourglass Films on Vimeo.

IT: Are there resources that children with Tourette’s and their parents can turn to that you would recommend?

RS: I would recommend reaching out to every resource available… your local Tourette Syndrome Association chapter, support groups, internet, neurologist, tap into the school’s social worker.  Educate yourself.  Focus on an activity your child likes… sports, music, art.  Focusing on something your child enjoys can release a lot of the built up frustration and tension and help with the ticking.

IT: Ariel, Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself from your experience of growing up with Tourette Syndrome?

Ariel Small: I’ve learned that there really is no limit to what we are capable of. That is, we can use the obstacles we face as a way to strengthen our resolve to reach our true potential.  My Tourettes has simply been a hurdle in my life, and I am sure there will be many more to come.  I have to continue to jump over these hurdles time and again.  I have also learned to have more empathy and insight into other people and what they might be struggling with or going through.

IT: What inspired you to become a Youth Ambassador for Tourette’s?

Photo courtesy of Robin Small

AS: Middle school was a very rough period for me.  I felt as if my disorder was very misunderstood by my teachers and classmates.  I realized that the best thing I could do for myself was to be my own best advocate and educate others.  Education is truly the answer to reducing or eliminating misconception and ignorance.  By speaking to other schools I can help to reduce or eliminate ignorance at a young age and help raise awareness so that no one else will have to go through the same things that I did.

IT: What was it like getting to interview James Durbin from American Idol for the documentary?

AS: Interviewing James Durbin was a dream come true.  I was literally star truck when I met him.  He had such a presence and was so open, honest and genuine.  I felt a connection and was extremely inspired by his courage and perseverance.

IT: What are your plans for the future?

AS: As of right now, my goals are to win conference for football and go far in the playoffs.  I hope to get into the college of my choice.  I plan on majoring in Engineering and hope to join the U.S. Marine Corps to serve my country.

IT: What message do you hope people will take from the film, and are there any misconceptions that you hope the film will clear up?

RS & AS: We hope that this documentary changes people’s perceptions of Tourette Syndrome and will inspire children who are struggling with it.  It is extremely important to separate the person from the disorder.  We are all different and it is these differences that make us unique.  Understanding and empathy are qualities of a successful perspective that will help individuals succeed in life.


  • Frances

    As a member of Durbinators, fan club of James Durbin, I am so proud of his courage and accomplishments. I am so glad that he was able to meet with Ariel and encourage him. The best to Ariel as he continues to educate others on the challenges of Tourettes Syndrome and as he continues in the pursuit of his goals.

  • Karen Smith Fulps

    Ariel – How wonderful to see you speaking to people about Tourettes. The more we educate about this crazy disorder, the better off our family members who suffer with it will be. I have spoken to whole schools about TS. I have been thanked regularly for shedding light on what was going on with my son, and a few other kids in the school. So many people just didn’t know… God Bless You – and continue your hard work educating the public! -Karen-

  • nissah mattenson

    Ariel, You are the best. You have so much inner strength, to be able to handle those miserable and ignorant kids and adults who tried to make you feel bad. You showed that you can beat them and come out triumphant and a winner. The future holds great things for you. I can’t wait to see the next chapter. I hope I’m around to see your acomplishments. I am so proud of what you have achieved and the great human being you are!!!!!!

  • Michelle Simpson

    As a 49 yr old person who had Tourrette’s waaaay before it was “cool” (LOL!) or back when they didn’t know what it was, it was very tramatic to grow up in a world where other kids were merciless & cruel in the teasing and making fun of. Even the doctors and my family members thought I was looking for attention or acting up. NO ONE understood what it was like to be tortured by this affliction. It’s nice to see how far we have finally come in understanding this strange syndrome.I was blessed and became a singer ( the music & TSS connection again!) that toured w/ my band for years and having TS actually made me a stronger person and staught me to pursevere no matter what. Please do keep on educating people about this until we find what causes it. In the meantime, best of luck in whatever you do and thank you for speaking for the rest of us. You ARE changing the world!!!

  • Andrea Martin

    Ariel and Robin, I am overwhelmed with hope and emotion after seeing your documentary. Our lives seem to be on similar paths. Our son is 13 and to hear Robin say (something to the effect) she wishes she could have known “back then” how happy Ariel would become struck a cord. We have felt so painfully alone until tonight. This documentary is by far the best tool available to educate the public and our son’s immediate world to the true struggle that these absolutely amazing kids shoulder daily. Thank you so much.

  • Lee Rozycki

    Ariel and Robin – It is a coincidence by God that we were told today of a family member diagnosed with TSS and the airing of your show. I hope and pray that through your public display of courage and strength that our extended family will travel their journey with the same acceptance, fortitude, and optimism. God bless you and your family and thank you so very much for shining the light and leading the way!!!!!

  • David Paul Aloia

    To the Small Family, Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Mr. and Mrs. Small, your dedication to your family is such an inspiration. Ariel, your resiliance and determination is unparalleled. To the rest of the family, boys, thank you. I am truly, truly inspired by your story. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn and grow.

    Sincerely,
    David P. Aloia

  • Helene Walisever

    To the Small family,
    As a fellow mother of 5, I appreciated your honesty about how TS impacts the whole family. Your genuine portrayal of the journey from angst to hope is very inspiring! Thank you so much for inviting me to view your family’s growth and success.

  • Donna Mitchell

    I caught only the last 1/2 hour or so of this program, however, what an inspiration! My son is 12 years old, with diminishing facial tics but being treated with CBT for OCD. He has done remarkable! It’s a been a long journey and I know we’re in the midst of it, but Mrs. Small’s words of wishing she knew earlier that Ariel would do so well in the future is encouraging. Thank you for sharing your story!. ( Now, if I could just find a link on this website to see the entire program or purchase a DVD…Hmmm…)

  • Sheila Moore

    Yes, I too am looking for a link or a way to purchase a video. I really want to watch this movie with my children. One has TS/OCD/ADD and the other is just emotionally impacted by her sibling’s disorder. We are in the mist of our journey as well, my child is thirteen and I think these are perhaps some of the hardest years. My sister also has TS and life before understanding was so much harder than it is even now. Thank you Small family for sharing your journey, it’s never easy to open the door to others, but what a blessing it is when you do. My son is blessed with many talents and is a gifted musician and we are so proud of him,! I’ll be so happy though when we have climbed the mountain and can look back and say I wish I had known. Thanks and God Bless You.

  • toba sherwood

    when will the program air again and/or how can I purchase a copy?

  • Jennifer

    Ariel- Words can’t express how grateful I am to you and your family for putting this documentary together. I have a 21 year old son who was diagnosed with TS about 3 years ago. (doctors never mentiond TS, I brought it to their attention after doing a lot of research). He also has OCD. He is not very open when it comes to discussing this topic. My son is away at school and I had told him about your program. He said he would watch it with me when he comes home (BIG STEP) if I can get a copy of it. This is the best program I have seen on TS. I would love to purchase a copy if there is any available. I think you are Amazing!! Thank you : )

  • Suzie

    When will this air again? I misses it and heard it was amazing. You are an inspiration.

  • Suzie

    This is my correct email address! I missed the airing and would love to know if it will be shown again. My sister in NJ said it was remarkable. You are an inspiration for all those who face challenges.

  • Barrett Kolton

    We would like to buy this video. Please let us know how to get it.
    B.Kolton, membership #30043574

  • Dawn Trevino

    I just finished this video – it was amazing! My son Ryan has TS & OCD and I can never say thank you enough to the Small family for sharing their experiences. We are in the midst of not being able to leave Ryan alone with anyone and hearing Mr. & Mrs. Small talk about their own experience with that was the first time that I knew that someone else understands what we are currently facing – that is powerful – to not feel so alone. I too would like to buy a copy.

  • Cheryl Hirsch

    Dear Ariel, Robin and the Small family – Thank you for your wonderful movie about Tourette Syndrome. I watched it last night and was moved beyond words. Having raised two fantastic kids with TS, I felt you really captured what it’s like for everyone affected by a family member who has TS. Ariel, you are smart and courageous, and will no doubt achieve whatever you set out to do. Robin, I felt you were describing my life at times, and I recognized the emotion in your eyes. You are a wonderful family, and I wish you and your boys all the best. Thank you again for shedding more light on this misunderstood disorder.

  • Sylvia DeMan

    WOW!!! My heart is pounding, I just finished watching the video. I can’t wait to share this with my son Brandon, 13 years old diagnosed with TS/OCD 2 years ago. Big HUGS to the Small Family for sharing their lives with us. Thank you for the encouraging words and determination to enlighten the world with “DIFFERENT IS THE NEW NORMAL” Once this is released to purchase, I can’t wait to share it with our family, friends and teachers.
    God bless your family, men, women, boys and girls.

  • DarleneDelaney

    I am so proud of your for this movie.I haven’t been able to watch it in Louisiana but, I hope I can soon. My son-in-law has battled with Tourette’s for 34yrs. now. It is so sad what it is doing to his life. There is no one in our town that wants to help him. Thank you so much for getting this illness out to he world.

  • Jenny Wilfong

    Ariel and the Small Family,
    I am filled with emotion watching the interview with you and James and I can not wait to watch your movie. My daughter is 6 years old and was diagnosed a year ago with TS/OCD/ADHD and anxiety. I can’t wait for my little girl to watch this as well, she is a very bright young girl and understands what she has and is very interested to see others who share her differences. Thak you so much for what you do for others with differences, I couldn’t be more proud of you and your family!

  • Valarie Crank

    To Whom it may concern,

    I am interested to find out if it is possible to view the whole segment or receive a copy of, “Different is the New Normal.” I work for a non-profit organization that helps train and employ people with disabilities and am interested in showing my co-workers at a Staff Meeting the show that aired on September 15th, 2011. If you could at all help me out it would be much appreciated. Sincerely, Valarie Crank

  • Michelle Michalos

    Hi Valerie (and others who’ve inquired about a DVD):

    The program is no longer available via streaming on the web, but DVDs are available on their web site: http://differentisthenewnormal.com/

  • Judy Dumont

    Ariel you inspire! I will share this with the youth I work with in Canada. Thank you