Ryan Traylor is a communications major and an intern in the Office of Communication and Public Affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child, he has overcome many challenges while moving toward becoming a college graduate, and is discovering new strengths and a direction for his life.
As told to staff writer Joanie Harmon
I had normal development from birth, but I stopped talking at two years old. My mother was concerned and took me to several doctors for a medical evaluation because she felt something was wrong. Initially my diagnosis was autism, based on my lack of speech, a dislike of being held, and staring into space. This caused heartbreak and misunderstanding for not only my family, but for the community around me as well, due to lack of resources in terms of knowledge and of treatment. When my family was out in the public with me, people would stare because of my “tics,” which were involuntary movements I made, such as head shaking and eye blinking. Due to the diagnosis, I was placed in a classroom setting with emotionally disturbed children, which was much more of a restrictive environment than I needed. However, I was blessed to have family, friends, and a teacher that made life as normal as possible by never making me feel different.
Finally, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at the age of four. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that causes people to have uncontrollable movements and make involuntary vocal sounds. In social situations, people are usually taken aback by my symptoms, often looking at me strangely. Invariably, they underestimate my capabilities. The symptoms that I deal with have created very real challenges and obstacles. However, I have learned a lot about Tourette Syndrome and understand my disability. I have learned to use the barriers I encounter to motivate me to become successful in college and in life.
Do not let labels prevent you from having the life you dream of. Even though I often felt isolated from my peers, I understood that I needed to look within myself and to remember that I have the potential to achieve goals, just like everyone else. My mother has been a great mentor. She taught me that when you experience pain but at the same time have a passion for what you do, you have gained a purpose for your life. It is a matter of finding the right place and the right people to allow you to exercise what you have to offer.
Struggles are not unknown to me and my family. My father was killed when I was 12 years old, leaving my mother to raise three sons alone. My grandmother helped out, looking after us while my mother was pursuing her doctorate degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Watching my mother attain a Doctor of Ministry degree taught me the importance of having a college education, having spiritual beliefs, and supporting one’s family. Through her calling and vocation as a minister, she has been a tremendous support and provided the spiritual guidance I needed to get through difficult times.
I started college at California State University, Los Angeles. The experience was very challenging because in a 10-week quarter system, you are given a lot of information to absorb in a small amount of time. This was a very stressful pace for me, and my GPA dropped to a 1.76. I realized there needed to be changes if I wanted to succeed in college. With the support of the very helpful staff at CSU Dominguez Hills, I transferred to this university for the 2005 fall semester.
Initially, I tried accounting and philosophy majors, but after taking Leigh Hess’s “Writing for the News Media” class during the 2008 spring semester, I decide to change my major to communications. I am more optimistic about my future plans because communications is a field where I can exercise my love of writing, which started when I kept a journal in high school. At the same time, a career in communications will also help me to develop the social and communications skills needed to go through life. I also discovered there is a wide range of opportunities in communications, whether it is working in public relations or writing for different media outlets.
Perseverance and flexibility have been the most important ingredients to succeeding at CSU Dominguez Hills. The professors have also helped me to learn how to adapt in the face of challenges. It took two semesters for me to complete Communications 400 and I am in my second semester taking Communications 490. Russell Simmons says in his book, Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, “There is no such thing as failure, there are only quitters.” When you are faced with obstacles, if you have wisdom and support, then you can stay the course of your journey toward success. My experiences in the COM 400 and 490 courses helped me to know that when I fall, I need to get back up with a different strategy to succeed.
In searching for internships before the start of this semester, I had several choices. One option was working in the marketing department at the South Bay Pavilion in Carson. After an interview there, I felt it was not the right place to do an internship because of the demands of going to Dominguez Hills during the week and working at Disneyland Resort on the weekends. On the weekends, I work at the resort in cast costuming. This is the clothes closet for cast members, and my responsibilities include passing out the many different costumes to Disney workers. I have become a leading staff member there, and am now called upon to train new cast members. This experience and leadership role is helping me gain life skills toward my purpose of helping others.
Instead of the marketing internship, I chose to be a note taker in the Office of Disabled Student Services at the university because my mother suggested it would help me learn about what I can do for people who are less fortunate than I am. Being a note taker has taught me that service has no barriers. Just as in business, the “customer” comes first. You need to be able to hear what another person has to say before you can point them in the right direction of what they want to accomplish. Initially in that role, I took notes during class lectures for a student. At the request of this student; however, I also helped him further understand the material by meeting individually with him, as a tutor. This has strengthened my desire to assist others in meeting their goals.
Having attended classes at Dominguez Hills for several years, I have become acquainted with the resources that are available on campus, not only for students with disabilities, but for all students. My professors recommended that we take advantage of the services offered by the Center for Learning and Academic Support Services (CLASS) that cater to students’ academic needs. The CLASS tutors helped me out significantly with some of my communications classes. They helped me understand how to proofread what I write and identify mistakes I make while writing news articles and research papers.
Professor Chris Russo also suggested I check out the Public Relations Society of Students Association and I joined the organization during my fourth year on campus. Belonging to a student organization has helped me feel connected with people who have common interests, and the members helped me to learn the ropes about what it takes to succeed both within and outside the university.
In thinking about my plans for the future, I recall that my love for writing was ignited as a student in the public school system. I would love to publish a memoir about how I got to where I am today. I would like to participate in raising money to develop scholarships for students with disabilities and help to provide the same kind of education that I have received. I would like to be a part of empowering others to discover their passions, interests and vocation. By applying the skills I have learned in the communications program, I could help raise awareness about what people with special needs deal with on a daily basis and let others know that they can succeed at anything if they have the courage to go for their dreams of a better life.