Award-winning Dawson Coyle to perform at Sunday’s NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes

South Jersey singer/songwriter Dawson Coyle to perform at NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes on September 20.

South Jersey singer/songwriter Dawson Coyle to perform at NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes on September 20.

The first South Jersey 5K for Tourette Syndrome is coming to Medford Lakes this Sunday and Dawson Coyle can’t wait.

The Gloucester County native is making a name for himself throughout the region as an award-winning singer/songwriter and will bring his sound to NJ Walks for TS.  He says encouraging audiences with his music is a big part of what he does, but this event holds an even deeper meaning for the 16-year-old.

Dawson was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS) at the age of five. A neurological disorder, TS is characterized by involuntary movements or sounds known as tics. As many as 1 in 100 children exhibit symptoms of TS which is frequently accompanied by ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mental health issues, and learning disabilities.

“Having TS and being aware of the everyday struggle of all that comes along with it makes it a very real issue for me,” he said.

NJ Walks for TS is a day of advocacy and awareness, started for kids, by kids to benefit kids with Tourette Syndrome. In addition to encouraging peers and younger kids to embrace life by connecting with something they enjoy doing, Dawson would like to help bring the public to a greater understanding of TS.

“This is not a joke,” he said, “I’ve heard the term [Tourette] negatively in describing others as a joke my whole life and it’s not funny.”

“For me, personally, when I hold back my motor tics, it’s like holding back a blink but in every part of your body—it’s exhausting,” he said. “[TS] waxes and wanes, it’s very possible to see me not ticking for extended periods of time…there is no rhyme or reason.”

For Dawson, and many of the other 20,000 school aged children and teens with TS, the outward appearance is the tip of the iceberg.

“Many times we struggle with our thoughts,” he said. “Depression, anxiety, OCD and so many other things come along with it.”

Ultimately, he wants everyone—especially those struggling with the disorder—to know that “those things do not have to overtake someone with TS.”

Dawson credits his faith, parents and music for helping him keep a positive mindset.

“I really want to be an encouragement to others with TS,” he said, “to show them that they can find something they’re good at, work hard at it and, in return, can also encourage and inspire others.”

All proceeds from NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes will benefit the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome’s (NJCTS) Education Outreach Program, which delivers in-service trainings to schools and hospitals across the state, youth leadership training, and scholarships.

To register or donate, visit On-site check-in begins at 8 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 20 at Beach 1/Vaughan Hall (Tabernacle Road) in Medford Lakes.

For more information on Dawson Coyle, visit

Youth Wish for Crowd of Support at NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes

Ava and Anna Heicklen with Tim Howard at Team Up with Tim Howard, kicking off a year of TS awareness.

If you ask young people what they wish for, many of them are pre-occupied with the material wonders of childhood. But for three girls in the Medford area, their simple request is far from child’s play.

They’re inviting everyone who reads this to stand with them on September 20th in support of a large community of children in New Jersey living with a misunderstood neurological disorder.

They are the inspiration behind the first South Jersey walk to benefit the Tourette Syndrome community. NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes is an off-shoot of popular NJ Walks events in North and Central Jersey by the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome (NJCTS).

Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements or sounds known as tics. TS is frequently accompanied by ADHD, OCD, mental health and learning disabilities. NJ Walks for TS was founded for kids, by kids and all proceeds from the event will support the Education Outreach Programs of NJCTS which deliver in-service trainings to hospitals and schools across the state, youth leadership training and scholarships.

Jen Heicklen of Medford Lakes and Maureen Faber of Medford are the moms behind the event and their daughters are following in their footsteps in bringing the public’s attention to TS.

“Ever since my little sister was diagnosed, too, I wanted to help spread awareness,” said 11-year-old Anna Heicklen. “I thought the walk would be a great way to do this.”

Ava Heicklen, 10, said she’s part of the movement because Anna “wanted us to work together to help teach our friends and school about Tourette.”

Through NJ Walks for TS at Medford Lakes, they hope to raise support and awareness of TS, which is an often misunderstood condition.

When asked what she’d like the public to understand about TS, Anna replied, “It isn’t easy, it interferes with your daily life. I just want people to be understanding.”

Hayley Faber, who is now a college freshman, adds “the more people understand about TS, the more accepting they are which makes it easier for kids with to explain things to our friends.”

Her hope is that the event will educate the community so that “it makes it easier and more comfortable for kids who have TS to live with this disorder.”

Ava, speaking on behalf of the 1 in 100 school aged kids with TS said, “We are not different from you. Our brains are just wired differently.”

All three girls invite kids and their families to gather on September 20th to learn more about TS and to stand up for the 20,000 New Jersey kids with TS and its associated disorders.

“We want everyone to support us so my sister and I can continue to spread awareness in the schools,” said Anna. “It would mean the world to us to have a ton of people to show up and support us.”

Ava concluded, “Because it would show that people support us like we support them.”

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Vaughan Hall on Tabernacle Road, pre-registration is suggested at  All registrants will receive a free, one-month family membership to Medford Fitness.

Academy Empowers a New Class of Teen Leaders

NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy Class of 2015 in their Leadership Academy edition GreaTS shirts

NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy Class of 2015 in their Leadership Academy edition GreaTS shirts

The NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy honors a new set of leaders in the Class of 2015.  Each of the 35 participants took part in an intensive four-day training promoting self-empowerment, self-leadership, and resilience—all important skills to succeed while living with Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements known as tics. As many as 1 in 100 people show signs of TS which is frequently accompanied by other disorders including ADHD, OCD, and learning disabilities.

Created in 2014 in partnership with U.S. Men’s Soccer goalkeeper and TS advocate Tim Howard, the Academy is the only leadership program for teens diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in the nation. During the opening ceremony, Howard’s inspiring video message welcoming the Class of 2015 encouraged them to “learn as much as you can from the expert team we have assembled and enjoy the time together with others who will guide and inspire you.”

Our partners at creative agency BNO introduced The GreaTS movement during opening ceremonies. This powerful movement aims to spread awareness of TS around the world and inspire individuals with TS to come out from behind the shadows, which is also a primary goal of the Leadership Academy. BNO premiered a video about The GreaTS featuring Tim Howard and the room erupted with applause.

The Academy took place at Rutgers University from August 6-9 and emphasized the biological, psychological, and social components surrounding a TS diagnosis. Leading TS experts from area Universities including Rutgers, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania led presentations and workshops throughout the program. Participants had the opportunity to learn from the neurologists, geneticists, psychologists, and social workers and were able to ask their most burning questions about their diagnoses.

Dr. Jay Tischfield and Dr. Gary Heiman led a tour through the NJCTS Cell & DNA Sharing Repository

Dr. Jay Tischfield and Dr. Gary Heiman led a tour through the NJCTS Cell & DNA Sharing Repository

“We want them to leave as experts, ready to face a public who is misinformed about TS,” said Leadership Academy Director Melissa Fowler. “They have a unique opportunity to learn more about their diagnosis from our expert presenters.”

Each of the 35 participants—who hailed from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana, Washington, Virginia, and California—contributed thoughtful questions and were eager to share life-skills tips with one another. They were assigned to teams led by coaches—successful young adults with TS.

In smaller “Team Talk” sessions, personal, powerful, and emotional discussions continued about the four pillars and developing the goals participants set for themselves as a final project. The coaches were asked about driving, getting accommodations in college, how TS affects them at work, and dating.

“It means so much to teens to engage with coaches and presenters who are the ideal role models,” said NJCTS Executive Director Faith W. Rice. “Learning from others who are living successful lives with a TS diagnosis is invaluable.”

The NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy Class of 2015 built friendships to last a lifetime

The NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy Class of 2015 built friendships to last a lifetime

Over the course of the Academy, participants spoke of resilience and leadership and defined personal goals for themselves. With the lessons and skills they gained, this class will step up to be the voice of awareness in their own communities.

The 2016 NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy dates will be announced soon. For more information visit

Young Millburn actor with Tourette’s Syndrome prepares for college

Alec Wolf finds freedom when he is on stage and he doesn’t let his TS hold him back. We are delighted to have Alec chosen as a finalist of our Youth Scholarship Award and we look forward to seeing his continued success, in school and on stage!

PHOTO COURTESY OF CINDI WOLF Alec Wolf, as Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein, sings on his peers' shoulders in MHS Limelight Players' production of "Young Frankenstein," in November 2014.

Alec Wolf, as Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein, sings on his peers’ shoulders in MHS Limelight Players’ production of “Young Frankenstein,” in November 2014.

Alec was recently profiled in The Item of Millburn and Short Hills:

The only time Alec Wolf says he feels free from Tourette’s Syndrome is when he’s on stage.

Wolf, 18, clears his throat and jerks his body uncontrollably several times a day, but he says the tics are part and parcel of the character he plays every day in real life: Alec Wolf.

In the theater, however, they’re nowhere to be found.

“I can have a million personalities when I’m acting, and it’s not the one with Tourette’s,” said Wolf, who graduated from Millburn High School last month. He was awarded the New Jersey Center for Tourette’s Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS) 2015 Youth Scholarship after submitting his essay, “The Things that Make Me Tic (Pun Intended).”

Continue reading…

In case you missed his essay, you can read it here.


An empowering, invigorating, life-changing experience

In 2014, NJCTS introduced the inaugural Tim Howard Leadership Academy—a four-day intensive program for high-school-age teens with Tourette Syndrome, held in August at Rutgers University. The experience was life-changing for the participants and we are thrilled to be able to bring it back this year. Recently, NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy Alum Hallie Hoffman wrote about the profound impact the Academy had on her. 

Imagine you are a teenager, and you have come to a place where there are many other kids your age. Many of them share similar interests as you, and all of you have come here to learn and have fun. You will meet adults who are proof that you will do fine in life. You will learn about many different aspects of yourself—physically, emotionally, and socially—and you will feel comfortable sharing these because no one is judging you here. You will talk and laugh with kids whom you have become closer with in only a few days than people you have known for years. You all came here because you share Tourette Syndrome, but what strikes you the most about the other kids is everything except that. You see them as athletes, musicians, actors, writers, dancers, and now friends. None of them are defined by their tics, and you know that they don’t define you by your tics either. Most importantly, everyone gets it. They understand the sadness, anger, frustration, shame, and fear. They know what it is like to feel alone, to feel different. But in this moment, none of that exists anymore. For the first time in many years, possibly even your entire life, you know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

This is the NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy. Last summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be a part of the inaugural group, and it was a life-changing experience. Prior to the Academy, I had never met more than a few kids with Tourette Syndrome, and I had never met an adult with it. At the Academy, I was able to clearly see that I am not alone. Talking with such confident and accomplished adults who also have TS gave me the confirmation that I needed to know that TS will not stop me from getting where I want to be in life.

It was not until I went to the Academy that I realized how much I had unconsciously suppressed my tics. Knowing that my tics didn’t require an explanation and that no one would feel uncomfortable by them gave me the freedom I needed to let them out. In doing so, I learned just how exhausting it had been to always attempt to filter my tics. Most incredibly, my tics quickly lessened because there was no added stress or effort to suppress them.

I remember the one night that a group of us huddled together around the piano, joking about how talented people with Tourette’s are. After singing many different pop songs and show tunes, we finally sang “Let It Go” from Frozen. As soon as we had finished, all of us realized at the same time that this was the perfect theme song for people with TS. The words “Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore,” and “Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me any way,” were a perfect narration for our lives.

Those three days were some of the best of my life. I met so many incredible kids and coaches, all of whom have inspired me. Learning about other people’s lives with Tourette’s helps me understand that I am never alone, and that there are so many others who understand my struggles. I still use everything I learned from the Academy, including everything from how our brains work differently, to study skills to help us in school, and even ways in which to relax that can lessen tics. One of my favorite activities, hearing from a panel of adults with TS, was an incredibly honest and enlightening experience. All of the participants had so many questions that had been on our minds, such as how TS can affect us in college, jobs, and relationships. The coaches answers were amazingly truthful in a way that brought us all together, and they reassured us that while there are struggles ahead, everything will be okay.

I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to return to the Academy this summer. I cannot wait to see the friends I made last summer, and I look forward to making many new friends as well. What is so amazing about the Academy is that it is something that never gets old; even though I went last year, there is always so much more to take from this experience. The Academy is a place where kids with Tourette’s can come together and grow, no matter where they are at in their journey when they first arrive. I know that this year I will learn a completely different set of lessons and skills, because I am at a different place in my life than I was last year. It is with this flexibility and focus on both individuality and the community that the Academy is able to offer so much to every person who comes.

I truly wish that all kids with Tourette’s could attend the Academy. It was such an empowering, invigorating, life-changing experience for me. Because of the skills and confidence that the Academy gave me, I was able to really start to speak out this year and be comfortable in who I am. A famous soccer goalie says to kids with Tourette’s, “You can do anything any one else can do.” This is what the NJCTS Tim Howard Leadership Academy has taught participants such as myself, and I look forward to this year when it will continue to spread this message of acceptance, self-esteem, and empowerment.