When Anne Baldwin thought about her son Levi starting kindergarten, the Clarkston mom was a little anxious about his separation anxiety, but knew he’d persevere.
But day one didn’t go as planned, and it just kept getting worse for Levi as the weeks and months went on. He had more anxiety, signs of OCD, and had developed attention issues and unexplained movements and sounds.
Nearly a year later, he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome with ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and insomnia. After being made to feel like she had the “bad kid” at school, Baldwin decided enough was enough.
“It was in that exact moment I knew that I had to do something. I did not want any other family like ours to be made to feel unheard or invisible,” she says.
After receiving the diagnosis, Baldwin dove head-first into the Tourette community by doing advocacy work through national organizations and volunteerism, with the goal of ending the stigma around Tourette Syndrome and to help educate communities on what children with this syndrome face.
“I had always toyed with the idea of sharing our story through writing, but was held back due to being insecure. I’m not a writer, I didn’t know where to start, and I was afraid that people would find it silly,” Baldwin says. “But then COVID hit, the world shut down, and I knew that there was no better time to write this story.”
What Makes Me…Me is a picture book that teaches kids to look at their differences as their superpowers and to celebrate them. The book is also intended for kids who may have never met someone with Tourette Syndrome.
“This book works as a stepping stone for kids to learn about the basics of Tourette and open a larger conversation with the adults in their life,” she says. “I don’t just want kids to understand what neurological differences are, I want to teach them compassion towards others who may not look, or act like them.”
During this same time, Baldwin took another chance. On a whim, she decided to enter the Mrs. Michigan America pageant, the oldest Mrs. pageant in America, to find a larger platform to share Levi’s story.
“When the crown was placed on my head, I knew I had a huge opportunity and responsibility to help end the stigma around Tourette Syndrome in youth,” says Baldwin. “I spent the next year of my reading to classrooms, talking to educators and others in our communities, and donating copies of my book to kids across Michigan.”
Throughout her entire reign, What Makes Me…Me was at the center of Baldwin’s advocacy, whose goal was help kids like Levi feel understood and seen.
Baldwin, who has gone on to compete in and win more pageants, currently holds the title of Mrs. Midwest US Continental and will compete in US Continental next month.
“Parenting a child with extra needs and neurological differences can be overwhelming, daunting, and at times scary. I am four years into Levi’s diagnosis, and I still have days where I cry and wonder if I am doing anything right,” says Baldwin. “I want other parents like myself to know, they aren’t alone. This is hard and that’s ok.”
Baldwin’s book, What Makes Me…Me, is part of a 2-for-1 book program, where, for every book sold, two are donated to a school or nonprofit organization.
Follow Baldwin and Levi’s journey on Instagram at @connect.ions.
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