Chatting with Jaylen about Wonder and bringing bullying to the big screen

Earlier this week, we we had the chance to catch up with our 2014 Youth Honoree Jaylen Arnold, founder of Jaylens Challenge Foundation, to chat about the recent release of Wonder and how the movie is tackling the ever-present issue of bullying in schools. Jaylen is what some might call an alphabet kid, because of all of the letters behind his name: Jaylen Arnold, TS, OCD, ASP. Those initials standing for Tourette Syndrome, severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome—all challenges Jaylen has faced since he was two years old. He has courageously carried his “Bullying No Way!” message around the country, determined to end childhood bullying for good.

So, you went to see Wonder this week. What did you think?
I think Wonder is an amazing and educational film. It helps shine a light on a life filled with struggle in a way that resonates with children as well as grown-ups. I was surprised to actually see other storylines incorporated into the movie–showing that so many other people are affected by this issue other than the person being bullied.

There must have been a few parts of the movie that really resonated with you and the reason you founded Jaylens Challenge. Was there a scene that stood out to you the most?
There were definitely parts of the movie that resonated with me personally. Even though I outwardly look like everyone else, when my body tics from my Tourette’s, people become curious, and they can be very judgmental. This can be seen when Auggie first meets other kids his age and they begin asking him embarrassing questions.

Wonder is based off the book written by R. J. Palacio, which has been implemented in some schools as reading curriculum for students. Do you think it should be required to teach on the subject of anti-bullying?
Yes. I think it should be implemented in every school. If the negative affects of bullying are not taught to children at a young age, they will grow to believe it’s acceptable behavior. That’s when bullying can escalate into something worse as they grow up. 

“You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out” is one of the most talked about quotes from the movie. What does this mean to you and what you’ve accomplished with Jaylens Challenge?
I believe that I, as well as so many other kids, are simply born to be different–even a little “weird.”But with that weirdness, we are given the tools to stand out and show society that there is so much more to life. It would be a shame to try to hide that from the world!

If every movie-goer takes one thing away from Wonder, what would that be?
That not everyone has the ability to be “normal.” We all struggle with something, and being mean-spirited towards someone–who didn’t even ask to be different–will only cause a lifetime of effects on how they live and feel about themselves. It can literally destroy their view on life.

Earlier this year, you had the chance to meet Prince William and Prince Harry as you were honored with the Princess Diana Legacy Award. How cool was that?!
Meeting and spending a couple of days with some of the Royal Family in England was such a surreal experience! I was blessed to receive an opportunity like that, just as I was blessed to become a World of Children Honoree. These are things I wouldn’t have been able to do and experience if I hadn’t embraced my disabilities, which cause me to be so different.

What’s next for Jaylens Challenge? Are you working on any big projects or upcoming events we can keep an eye out for?
I’ll be a high school senior next year, so I am focusing on making some decisions on college while continuing to follow my path to end bullying. We are implementing Jaylens Challenge Ambassador Clubs in several schools in 2018, and I hope to take that movement nationwide. I will also be a keynote speaker for the National Tourette Association five-day conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in February, along with scheduling speaking engagements at Princeton and Harvard University Colleges.

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