Stopping teasing through understanding (and the help of some rats)

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 11, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

The 11-year-old, from Manotick, Ont., and his sister, Melanie, 14, gave a presentation to the students about Melanie’s rare condition, which is called Cornelia de Lange syndrome.

When Tommy was in Grade 1, he came home from school crying. “All of my friends were making fun of my sister’s school work,” he said.

“She can barely see well, barely hear well, barely talk well,” said Tommy.

To help people understand Melanie better, he and his mother decided to publish a book they had written together when he was six. The book, which they called “Melanie and Tommy have two pet rats and one syndrome,” is both entertaining and educational.

Their mother, Nathalie Wendling, was nervous when the book was first published, afraid that kids may not like them. But Tommy told her “I’m seven and I love the books and I know my friends will love them. “He was right,” she said.

“They got the message and everyone always smiles and says ‘hi’ to Melanie.”

Tommy began making presentations when he was just seven years old as a way to help people better understand Melanie’s condition. “The reason he’s doing them is I was too scared,” said Wendling. “He said he would do it but he wanted Melanie and the two pet rats with him.”

Since then, the family has made about 80 presentations throughout Canada, and they’ve all become more comfortable speaking to an audience.

“Melanie used to be so nervous that she would hide behind the rat cage, but now she says a full sentence,” said Wendling.

She said making a presentation at Tommy and Melanie’s own school had a huge impact. “If they understand what’s going on, they don’t tease anymore,” said Wendling.

During the local presentation, Melanie’s rat spent most of the time snuggled inside her shirt. The rats help her to feel calm and happy, and were popular with the NGA students.

The family made their only Nova Scotia stop in New Glasgow while travelling from Prince Edward Island to Newfoundland. When they reach Newfoundland, they will have met their goal of bringing their messages of courage, strength, love and acceptance to all 10 provinces.

They want people to know how others feel when they get teased, that a syndrome is not contagious, and to accept others who seem different.

In Grade 3, Tommy realized his presentations and books were helping all the “Melanies out there.” 

“My favourite part of the experience is that everyone stopped making fun of my sister.”

Tommy has received many awards for his efforts, including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award.





Cornelia de Lange syndrome


Melanie’s condition, which she was born with, causes developmental delays, hearing and vision problems, eating difficulties and speech delays.

About 100 known cases exist in Canada, with about 2,400 known cases in the United States. 

Because of the syndrome, Melanie is small for her age, and learning new skills is difficult. It took her five years to learn how to chew her food, nine years to learn how to jump with two feet and six years to say 20 words.

She has had 14 operations and procedures in her 14 years.

The syndrome is named after the doctor who first described it in 1933.

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