She Has Tourette Syndrome, and She Changed the World: An Interview With Hayley Gripp, an Actress, Humanitarian, and Author
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
Hayley Gripp is an American actress, humanitarian and internationally published writer. In 2013, Gripp made her debut in the entertainment industry as a print model. To this day, she continues to land national ads for brands such as Verizon Wireless, Murad Skincare, TOF Cosmetics, Disney Airbnb, Radisson Hotels, As Seen On TV, and more. As an actress, Hayley has shot multiple commercials, has been a celebrity taste tester on Cupcake Wars, landed prominent roles on CSI: Las Vegas, a reoccurring role on the Lifetime original series Killer Kids, a role in the Lionsgate feature film The Vatican Tapes and is currently filming the sitcom The Ginger Girls.
A big advocate for anti-bullying and education, Gripp played a prominent role in getting the anti-bullying law “The IDEA Act” passed, and has spoken to over 200,000 people across the country on the bullying epidemic. Gripp was born with Tourette Syndrome and severe ADHD, and has been vocal about the challenges those disabilities have had on her life. In 2017, Gripp launched her lifestyle blog and quickly gained status as an influencer who spreads positivity. In the past few months, Gripp has landed paid influencer sponsorships with multiple large companies. Just this year—in-between acting—Gripp took on a major role in marketing in The Jonathan Foundation. The Jonathan Foundation advocates for children with disabilities. She is currently enrolled in a prestigious advocacy training program through COPAA, and hopes to be a voice for the voiceless children lost in the education system. For more info, visit www.hayleygripp.com, or follow her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/itshayleygripp.
What is your backstory?
I was born with something called Tourette Syndrome, but didn’t show signs until age eight. Although I was showing signs, I was not diagnosed until age ten. Along with Tourette syndrome, I was diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and learning differences.
At the time, I didn’t realize that my biggest challenge in life would come two years later—a challenge that would help shape me into the person I am today. At twelve years old I walked into a new school, excited for a fresh start. The first thing I did was tell the class I had Tourette Syndrome. My teacher then decided to single keep me out for my Tourette syndrome by telling the class I was a disabled student, and to “be careful” being my friend. She brought me up in front of the class every following day for two years, asking the students about my tics, or to share what I forgot that day. She also tried to fail me academically because I didn’t bring an extra copy of something to class.
I had never been bullied by a teacher. Not knowing how to react, I put up a wall to protect myself from the pain. I still wonder how I got through middle school and actually passed.
When I began high school I was finally given an IEP—a learning specialist—and accommodations that helped me become a successful student. My teachers were so supportive, and I was finally in a great school. I was still dealing with the trauma from my middle school teacher though, and the first six months were rough, but I soon started to improve academically. Although my grades were good and I was thriving at my school work, in my junior year of high school, I couldn’t understand why I was unhappy in life. I couldn’t make friends due to the wall I’d put up, and my tics were still severe. After meditation and a lot of deep thought, I realized I held a grudge against my peers and teacher. The anger was eating me up inside and slowly turning me into an emotionally absent rock. On paper I was a success story, but in real life I was lost in a world of hate. At that moment I decided to forgive my tormentors.
My mother asked if I wanted to press charges against the teacher, but I chose to end the cycle of hate and fight back positively. I aligned myself with the Tourette Association of America and trained as a youth ambassador in Washington DC. Through the Tourette Association of America, I was given the tools and training to lobby with my senators and get the IDEA Act passed. This Act prevents any teacher from bullying or abusing a student with disabilities.
I wanted to protect others in my situation, as there were no laws to protect me. For the next year I went around to schools and educated others on Tourette Syndrome. I began to open up and make friends, and after letting go of the anger and negativity, my tics decreased by 65 percent. Finally, everything was falling into place.
When I was seventeen, my world was shaken once again. My father died very suddenly. At this point in my life, I could drown in my sorrows or rise above and look at every blessing I had. I chose the latter. Six months later I had a full-ride to a private university for theatre and writing.
Unfortunately, the last year of high school many of my accommodations were no longer in my IEP, and I was not given accommodations to help me become a successful student. I also dealt with another difficult teacher who did not accept having a student with disabilities, and turned my desk into a prison cell. However, my dad’s last words to me rang in my head. They were: “Hayley, you need to stop doing everything for everyone else and go after your own dreams.”
I left college and became a nanny for a year and a half, working to better myself, and figuring out what I wanted in life. I don’t recommend this path for everyone, and I’m still a huge advocate for education, but every person is different.
Right before my twentieth birthday, I pursued my childhood dream of acting. Soon I had booked roles on CSI, Lifetime, and Hallmark, as well as multiple commercials. I found success very fast, but not happiness. I wanted to spread awareness about anti-bullying, and show others with disabilities that they could follow their dreams as well.
In may 2014 when I was twenty-one, I was hit by a driver driving 65 miles-per-hour who ran a stop sign. This triggered my Tourette’s worse than ever before, caused post-traumatic stress disorder, and had me in doctor’s offices for nine and a half months. Yet I had nothing but forgiveness for the woman who hit me. I chose to live a positive life and believe that everything happens for a reason.
After a year of recovery, I was very ready to get back to acting. Unfortunately, the day before I was do back on set, I was attacked by someone I knew—a family friend. In ten minutes, everything I had ever worked for was stripped from me. He took my confidence and made me feel ashamed of myself. If I could go back and tell myself to not believe my attacker, and to open up to my family right away, I wouldn’t have as many trust issues. To this day I still battle with self worth.
Three months after the attack, I did tell my family. I refused to press charges, and only wanted an apology. Unfortunately, after my brother confronted my attacker, nothing happened. I did not get the closure I so badly desired, and my heart was filled with pain and anger—not necessarily at my attacker, but at myself. Since the attacker stripped me of my confidence, I could no longer walk into a room and audition. With this realization, I decided to take another break from acting and utilize a skill with writing, content creation, and PR. I worked for a PR firm for six months, and soon began running it.
After six months, I moved to New York City and became the youngest head of branding and marketing for an organic cosmetic company, and later worked with the first sustainable non-profit in Los Angeles. I then moved to Minnesota and worked as a personal chef, as well as with the Hope 4 Youth homeless teen center. Minnesota was a place of peace where I reflected on everything that happened in my life. This was when I once again learned to love myself.
After living in New York and Minnesota, I came back to California in September 2016. My true love is helping others, and upon my return, I worked as an in-home nurse’s aid for nine months. I put my dreams aside to help a woman struggling with a fatal neurological disorder. At first I thought it was an incredible job, but soon realized I was being taken advantage of.
After experiencing extreme verbal abuse, I gained the confidence to quit. This was momentous to me, as I am not a fan of confrontation, and not always the best at standing up for myself. To this day I enjoy working on my lifestyle blog, traveling across the country to raise awareness about the bullying epidemic, and was named the director of marketing for a small non-profit called The Jonathan Foundation, which advocates for children with disabilities.
In the next few weeks I will begin an intensive year long training through COPAA to be trained as a certified advocate. This will allow me to advocate directly with the children in IEP meetings. I am also slowly getting back into acting and just filmed a commercial. I take everything one day at a time. My true love is—and always will be—giving back, and I plan to keep my main focus on that.
For the first time in a long time I can say that I am truly happy. Happiness is a choice, and I choose happiness every day. Life is worth living. Every person is valued and appreciated. Every flaw and imperfection is perfect in its own way. Whether you have a learning disability, a learning difference, or you are just facing adversity, you don’t need to change for anyone else. No matter what adversity you face, YOU CAN do anything. I’m living prove of that.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Random and hilarious things seem to happen to me a lot. Recently, I was working on an article about the dating app “BUMBLE”. I had to go in the field and go on two dates so I could truly understand people’s experiences with the app. Both dates were set up one night after the other, and both men seemed successful and put-together. The first night, one of the guys brought a friend, and my actual date ignored me. I ended up leaving early when his friend began to pet me like a cat and put dead flowers in my purse. When I met my second date, he told me that he has two lap dogs that he pushes in a stroller, and that every morning he rinses out their lady bits so they don’t get UTI infections. I gulped my drink and left. Field work is always super interesting!
You have worked with—and are working with—so many wonderful causes and foundations. Can you tell me about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Yes, a few years back I mentored a little boy with Tourette syndrome and autism. We were connected through a mutual pediatrician, and I educated his family and gave them hope. At the time, they were still unsure of everything. But the amazing thing is that a while after helping their family, the parents started the non-profit Scholastic Support, a non-profit that gives scholarships to kids with Tourette syndrome. The family is heavily involved with the Tourette Association of America, and they are the first ones at all of the fundraisers. It’s amazing to see that a little encouragement helped turn these parents into incredible advocates for their child. With The Jonathan Foundation, we see success stories every day. It would surprise you how much of a difference it makes to get children the proper therapy and accommodations they deserve. I myself am excited to get trained by COPAA to become an advocate and start making an even bigger difference in children’s lives.
What are five things you wish someone told you when you first started and why?
- I wish someone would have told me that even though I have differences, and a disability, that I am perfect just the way I am. As I grew up, I dealt with self esteem issues and thought that I was inadequate because I was different. My family loved me, but it was still difficult. As the symptoms of my disability got better, we didn’t talk about it as much.
- I wish someone would have told me at 24-years-old, not only would I know true happiness, but I would also have tons of supportive and loving friends around me. So far, 24 has had its struggles, but I have never been happier. From my Tourette syndrome showing up at age eight, until they began to get better at age 16, I had very few friends, and was not always happy. People were afraid of those that were different, and didn’t want to associate with someone considered “weird”. It was definitely difficult.
- I wish someone would have told me to let go, to take more chances, and to live life to the fullest. Growing up, I was always very cautious. This was probably due to to not wanting to upset others or give them any reason to judge me, and with a disability I was always judged. To this day, I love traveling, trying new foods, and having new experiences. Recently I tried an escape room with a friend and it was an absolutely amazing experience. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone.
- I wish someone would have told me that I had so many struggles in life because I was meant to help others, and make their struggles easier. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I know I can take something hard and learn from the experience.
- I wish someone told me to STOP trying to be perfect. To this day it’s a constant battle. Growing up and feeling inadequate, I now go above and beyond in everything I do. I beat myself up if I think someone is upset with me. I remind myself every day that I am only human, and it’s ok to not always be 100 percent. The people who care about me will still love me like I’m at my best even when I’m at my worst.
Is there a person in the world who you would love to have a private breakfast with? Why?
I have always been a HUGE fan of Kate Winslet. She is beautiful inside and out. I remember first seeing her in Titanic when I was 6-years-old. I said to my mom, “Mom, she has red hair just like me. I’m going to grow up and be on the screen like her.” I admire Kate Winslet for a few reasons. The first is that she is probably the only person who will openly admit she likes boots as much as I do. Yes, it’s comforting to feel so grounded. Another is that she doesn’t conform to what society demands. She marches to her own beat, and is a leading lady who isn’t a size 2 or 4 (I have a somewhat similar body type). When I saw “The Reader,” I was speechless and had to watch it three times. Her performance was nothing short of brilliant. I also love that Kate supports Cardboard Citizens, a theatre company for homeless people. Theatre is so therapeutic, and everyone deserves to practice the arts. I also love that she founded The Golden Heart Foundation after working on a documentary about parenting and autism. It would be a dream to have a cup of tea with Kate. She is someone I have always looked up to.
Note to our readers: If you appreciated this interview, please click on one of the buttons on the top left to post to your twitter, facebook or pinterest. If 2000 people like you do this, there is a good chance this article may be featured on the homepage.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.