Different Is the New Normal

(Rochester, NY) – Ariel Small grew up in suburban Chicago with four siblings and loving parents. However, as Ariel grew older his parents noticed something different. His behavior became more and more alarming. Premiering on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11), Different Is the New Normal tracks trials and triumphs of Ariel Small, a 17-year-old who has struggled with uncontrollable tics caused by Tourette Syndrome – and others’ intolerance and misperceptions about it – throughout his life. Edie Magnus narrates.

Different Is the New Normal is part of Dialogue on Disability: The Herman & Margaret Schwartz Community Series, a partnership between WXXI and Al Sigl Community of Agencies. The week-long programming intiative is designed to encourage community dialogue about the abilities of people with physical and intellectual disabilities, and the importance of inclusion. Dialogue on Disability runs January 7-14, 2013.

Produced, directed and written by John Block and produced, edited and cinematography by Matt Wechsler, Different Is the New Normal reveals an acutely personal first-hand account of Tourette’s through the eyes of Ariel Small. With his permission, his mother Robin turned the camera on him to document their emotional journey to overcome the obstacles of Tourette’s in order to raise awareness about the disorder and help others living with the condition. Along the way, Ariel meets James Durbin, American Idol finalist, whose own battle with Tourette’s make him realize that anything is possible.

According to the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA), Tourette’s (TS) affects an estimated 200,000 people in the United States. It is a neurobiological disorder characterized by involuntary and repetitive physical and vocal tics. Yet, Tourette’s remains one of the most publicly misunderstood disorders. Like most people, the Smalls had the preconceived notion of Tourette’s stereotypical symptoms such as compulsive outbursts of obscenities. Ariel exhibits none of these traits. This behavior belongs to a rare form of TS called coprolalia that affects only a small percentage of Tourette’s patients. Once the diagnosis settled in, Ariel and his family embarked on a life-changing journey to change the social stigma of the disease.

One of the disabling aspects of the disorder is the internal mental tics that disrupt daily functions. Another is the constant need to prove one’s disability in order to receive the education and legal rights for those with Tourette’s. Remarkably, Ariel overcame his differences and became a Youth Ambassador for the TSA to advocate, educate and validate the disorder. As an ambassador, Ariel crossed paths with many people with Tourette’s having a productive career and a fulfilling life. Among those profiled is singer James Durbin who was relentlessly bullied due to his tics. In a revealing conversation between Ariel and the American Idol contender, Durbin tells Ariel “Different is the new normal.”

Major support for Different Is the New Normal is provided by David and Robin Small. Executive Producer is Robin Small. Producer, Director, and Writer is John Block. Producer, Editor, and Cinematographer is Matt Wechsler. Composer is David Varga. Narrator is Edie Magnus. 

Dialogue on Disability is made possible with support from the Fred L. Emerson Foundation. To learn more about this initiative, visit: WXXI.org/dod.

Pictured: Ariel Small




WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.


WXXI Media Contact:

Kristin Tutino

Creative Services Department

[email protected]


Go to the NPR Pressroom

Go to the PBS Pressroom

Get logos for Media Use

Read our Media Policy

Radio Archives

TV Archives