June 7 "good luck send off" planned for Miss Southeastern
Contact: Christina Chapple
(1) PROMOTING TOURETTE’S SYNDROME – Southeastern Louisiana University junior Blair Abene of Hammond, Miss Southeastern 2006, right, joins WWL-TV Morning Show anchor Sally Ann Roberts, left, and child psychologist Ron Cambias on the Morning Show set to talk about National Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month. Abene, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome at the age of eight, has chosen the neurological condition as her “platform” as Miss Southeastern. A former Miss Teen Louisiana, she will compete June 13-17 for the title of Miss Louisiana.
(2) GOOD LUCK SEND OFF TO MISS LOUISIANA PAGEANT – Southeastern Louisiana University will host a “good luck send off” for Miss Southeastern 2006 Blair Abene at 3 p.m., Wednesday, June 7, in the Student Union Theatre. She’ll preview her pageant attire, perform her talent, and answer “interview” questions from the audience.
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University is sending Blair Abene, Miss Southeastern 2006, to the Miss Louisiana Pageant with wishes of good luck – and a chance to warm up the modeling-performing-interviewing skills she will be judged on at the June 13-17 competition in Monroe.
Abene’s campus and community friends and fans can join in the well-wishing on Wednesday, June 7, when the Campus Activities Board sponsors a pre-pageant reception for her at 3 p.m. in the Student Union Theatre. At the event, Abene will model her pageant attire and perform her talent, the opera aria “O Mio Babbino Caro.” She will even field questions from the audience to give them an idea of what the competition’s interview phase is like.
Abene, a junior from Hammond with a double major in vocal performance and mass communication, also will be serenaded by her father, popular local singer Joe Abene, and will introduce her “princesses,” Catherine Brown, 11, of Springfield, and Madison Burch, eight, of Hammond. The girls are accompanying Abene to the pageant through the Miss Louisiana Pageant’s “Fleur de Lis Princess” program. As princesses, Catherine and Madison will actually be part of the televised pageant, participating in one of the production numbers and “greeting” Abene when she comes on stage for the evening wear segment. They also get to have lunch with Miss Louisiana.
Abene said she is looking forward to the big event, in which she competed last year as Miss Dixie Gem Peach. Her pageant experience also includes successfully capturing the Miss Teen Louisiana title in 2002. In all her competitions, she has chosen “Tourette’s Awareness Reaching Teens” as her platform. Ironically, the Miss Louisiana Pageant coincides with Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, May 15-June 15.
Abene was diagnosed at the age of eight with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by repetitive, involuntary vocal and motor tics that persist over time. Her case, she said, was mild and her symptoms, which included blinking, spinning and compulsive behaviors such as tapping a pencil while writing, diminished greatly as she grew older. However, they can still be triggered by stressful situations – such as competing in the Miss Louisiana contest.
“Blinking is the main thing, so, yes, the blinking has started!” she said, laughing good naturedly. “But everything is going well. I’m looking forward to the pageant and I know it’s going to be a great week.”
Abene has been a spokesperson for Tourette’s Syndrome for several years. “When I was in high school I wanted to be involved in an organization through which I could really take part in things throughout the community,” she said. “I want to try to show that people with Tourette’s Syndrome are normal people and they are successful.”
Abene found the Tourette Syndrome Association, which has chapters throughout the United States including in New Orleans. As Miss Teen Louisiana, she did a public service announcement; she regularly visits schools and speaks at civic clubs about the condition; and she has done several Radio Disney interviews. In May, she was interviewed on New Orleans television station WWL in conjunction with Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month.
A television program prompted Abene’s own diagnosis, she said.
“I had symptoms since I was about five or six and had been tested for various different things like allergies,” she said. Her mother, Gay Abene, happened to catch a news segment one day about Tourette’s Syndrome. “She knew right away that’s what I had,” Abene said. “From there I got diagnosed by a neurologist.”
Although her own symptoms were mild, Abene said she can relate to the ridicule and lack of self-esteem that often troubles youngsters with the condition.
“I blinked a lot, that was probably my most prevalent symptom,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was blinking so much. Then I saw a video of myself at a birthday party. My eyes were just closed constantly. My life must have been a blur at that point because that’s how much I blinked!”
Other symptoms came and went, she said. “I’d be in the mall with my mom and I would just spin around constantly. There were times when I had to flip the light switch on and tap the end of my bed a certain amount of times before I got in to go to sleep. Or I would have to look at the clock a certain amount of times.
“I had some control, but you pretty much don’t,” she said. “I was so self-conscious, especially at school. I did things that I know other kids noticed and commented about. Before I got diagnosed, and even after, it was a struggle to fit in and be okay with it. The older I got the more comfortable I was; I was able to discipline myself to control it and not to do a lot of things. Sometimes now when I get stressed out they still come back, but it’s not nearly as bad.”
From an early age, she said that music helped her. “I didn’t realize until just a couple of years ago that music has been found to be some kind of therapy for Tourette’s,” she said. “It soothes the ticks and what we call symptoms, which can be exhausting. It made so much sense, because since I was a child, I played the piano and sang, and that was the only time I could really relax and not worry about the symptoms and just be me. It’s a really neat connection. Some researchers even think that Mozart had Tourette’s!”
“I have met people who have told me that I have made a difference,” Abene said. “The funny thing about it is that it is not always people with Tourette’s. My Miss Southeastern platform does concentrate on Tourette’s, but it is also about self-esteem. It makes a difference to know that I have at least educated someone who didn’t know about Tourette’s, or that I’ve made a child feel better about themselves and inspired them to be successful.”