Training Topics

Jonathan provides customized training including, but not limited to the following topics:

For Conferences

Ostracism and Isolation—How to Break the Chain
(1 hr keynote/presentation)

Award-winning author Jonathan Friesen spent years separated from the world. His Tourette Syndrome and various emotional disorders built a wall he could not overcome. But others could! Your staff or conferees will learn strategies to become one of these precious “others,” able to rescue ostracized youth from their pain.

Living with a Disability: A Life of Hope
(1 hr keynote or ½ day presentation)

Drawing from personal experiences with Tourette Syndrome, O/CD, and E/BD, award-winning author Jonathan dispels the myths that the word “disability” conjures up. Disability is not a curse, nor is it a life-sentence to years of despair. The unique disability experience has the potential for richness and joy. After hearing Jonathan speak, you’ll be viewing disabilities in a whole new light.

Working with Challenged Youth: Tell Them What They Need to Hear
(1 hr keynote/presentation)

Teachers, service providers, and care givers are uniquely positioned to speak into the lives of challenged youth. Too often, we simply aren’t certain what to say. This presentation helps your conferees break the awkward barrier of silence and speak messages that go straight to the heart.

Tourette Syndrome 101
(1 hr keynote/presentation)

Are you interested in informing your staff or conference attendees about this oft-misunderstood condition? Jonathan Friesen speaks about Tourette Syndrome from firsthand experience. He and other members of his family share the hereditary condition. Learn what we know about the signs, the manifestations, and the prognosis of this syndrome, as well as ADHD, O/CD and OD—all disorders that often accompany it.

Do No Harm: When Good Intentions Have Unintended Results
(1 hr keynote or ½ day presentation)

Teachers and service-providers long to help students with special needs. It’s part of why they do what they do. Why is there then such a disconnect between adult intentions and student reactions? Yes, part of the puzzle originates with the child (immaturity, environment, etc.). But often adults assume that what is said, is interpreted correctly. Students with special needs often hear an entirely different message than the one that comes out of adults’ mouths. Learn how to take your good intentions and do no harm.

Lay the Foundation for Literacy
(1 hr keynote/presentation)

What is the foundation for literacy? Ask one hundred people and you may get one hundred different answers. Most involve strategies. Most involve methods and practices. But what if there is something deeper? What if there is something that must first touch the heart before words on a page can touch the mind? Why is it that many of our troubled kids who yes, can read, still aren’t literate? Why can’t they connect with the words they can easily read? This keynote answers those questions, and shows your staff or conferees the true foundation for literacy.

For Universities (all of the above plus the following)

On Teaching Well: What You Must Know Before the Bell
Define Disability (Perfect for Disability Awareness Weeks and Teacher Training Courses)

For High Schools/Middle Schools

Life with Tourette Syndrome: A Personal Story of Hope
Bullying, Ostracism, and Hope
Overcoming—You Can Write a Different Story
True Fiction: The Writing of JERK, CALIFORNIA
Honing Your Writing Craft (for motivated writers)
Developing Powerful Characters
Writing with Emotion
So You Hate to Write, Huh? (for resistant writers)
Turning Struggles into Great Stories
Small Group Mentoring Clinics
Reaching the Young Adult Heart (specifically designed for writing/literature teachers)


Are you a teacher or administrator interested in transforming a school day into an unforgettable experience? Do you want your conferees to leave your event inspired? Consider inviting Jonathan to keynote your conference, speak at your school, or appear at your school/library event!

Whether you’re looking for a large group presenter, or a small group workshop leader, (or you have an entirely different need. . .surprise him!) invite Jonathan to your school or event and watch students and professionals alike respond to a message of hope and motivation described as "truly transformational!"

“Your energy, insight, and passion were eye-opening and restoring for the teachers and students. I know they were for me! The students were as inspired and grateful as I was!” (First Lady of Wisconsin, Jessica Doyle)

 “I've never laughed and cried so much in one hour as when I first heard Jonathan speak. You are in for a treat!” (Dr. Sheldon Braaten, Ph.D.—Director, Behavioral Institute of Children and Adolescents)

 “The inspiration you provided our staff, and most importantly the students, will stay with us! We all had only high praise for the morning’s assembly—your stories were a perfect mix to reach us adults, and the kids.” (The Staff of HLWW Middle School)

“I am spellbound!” (ESL Para/Teacher)

 “Jonathan was engaging and brought me to tears more than once; his story is the story of my life, of my children’s life, and is the reason I entered this career. He was fabulous!”  (Inclusion Specialist)

 “You had a huge impact on my daughter during a time of early teen ups and downs! I appreciate your influence on her life.” (Parent)

 “A powerful insight into the minds of those I see every day.”  (Special Ed. Assistant)

 “You touched so many lives with your stories, ideas, and personal experiences. Your presentations were the highlight of my school year!” (Media Specialist)

About Jonathan

Jonathan Friesen is an award-winning author, international speaker, and storyteller who received the diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome later in life. He is not alone—TS or its symptoms affect several members of his family. Jonathan currently serves on the board of the Minnesota Tourette Syndrome Association. He’s the author of five novels including Rush (Penguin, 2010) and The Last Martin (Zondervan/HarperCollins 2011), which explore mental health issues. Jonathan has numerous award-winning articles to his credit. His personal experience with Tourette’s inspired him to write the highly acclaimed novel Jerk, California (Penguin, 2008), winner of the American Library Association’s 2009 Schneider Award—“Best Book for Teens.”

Jonathan spent sixteen years teaching in traditional classroom, special education, and university settings, and now travels the country sharing his expertise and heart for disability issues with audiences of all ages.

Engaging and passionate, Jonathan’s presentations have touched students and educators, parents and professionals across the country. 

When he’s not writing, speaking, or teaching, Jonathan hangs out with his family on a small farm


Aldo's Fantastical Movie Palace


JERK California

Only He Can Bring What They Need to Survive.

In 2250, water is scarce, and those who control it, control everything. They'll do anything to maintain their power---deceiving, dividing families, banning love ... killing those who oppose them. Above all, they seek to control knowledge and communication---ensuring the truth that will bring their downfall will never be known. But one person verges on discovering it all.

Sixteen-year-old Luca becomes the Deliverer, the one chosen to make the yearly pilgrimage: He must descend to the domain of the hideous 'Water Rats,' creatures who mine the essential water and pump it to the desperate 'Toppers,' in exchange for light. But when Luca meets a Water Rat who captures his heart and leads him to secrets---secrets about a vast conspiracy, and about himself---the net around him tightens.

Luca and those around him must uncover and share the truth needed to overthrow tyranny---even as they fight for their lives.

Aldo's Fantastical MOVIE PALACE
In the Darkness of this Theater, Anything Can Happen.

The family's broken-down theater has always been a safe place for Chloe. There, no one can see the scars that line her face—scars her inventor father accidentally caused, leaving even deeper wounds between them.

In the darkness she meets Nick, a boy with his own hurts. While Nick isn't the most pleasant companion, a rocky friendship is formed over their love of films. Soon the two are working on a movie script about a fantastical world—one that suddenly comes alive on the screen.

Chloe and Nick are transported into an adventure beyond what they ever imagined, filled with dragons, magical pools, and a sinister vapor that threatens to destroy everyone. But when tragedy strikes, Chloe must find the courage to step out of the shadows and find what she's always longed for.

The Last Martin
There's always a Martin. Only one Martin.

Martin Boyle already has plenty to worry about. His germaphobic mother keeps him home from school if she hears so much as a sneeze, and his father is always off somewhere reenacting old war battles. Julia, the most beautiful girl in school, won't even speak to Martin, and the gym teacher is officially out to get him. Which is why Martin really doesn't need this curse hanging over his head. 

On a trip to the family cemetery, Martin wanders among the tombstones of his ancestors and discovers a disturbing pattern: when one Martin is born, the previous Martin dies. And---just his luck---Martin's aunt is about to give birth to a baby boy, who will, according to tradition, be named Martin. Martin must find a way to break the curse, but every clue seems to lead to a dead end. And time is running out.


Equal parts romance and heart-pounding action, this novel will leave you absolutely breathless. Join teen Jake King, an adrenaline junkie turned hotshot firefighter, as he struggles with the one risk he cannot take: losing his best friend and secret love, the beautiful Salome Lee. But to Jake, firefighting is like breathing pure adrenaline. And if he doesn’t stop soon, they could all get burned.


This Schneider Family Book Award winner changed the face of Tourette's Syndrome for modern teens. Wrought with tension, romance, and hope, Jerk, California tells the story of Sam, who sets out on a cross-country quest to learn the truth about his family and his inherited Tourette's Syndrome, along the way finding both love and acceptance.


American Library Association
2009 Schneider Family Book Award

Library Media Connection
Editor's Choice Award



Q: Your biography mentions that, like Sam/Jack from the book JERK, CALIFORNIA, you also have Tourette Syndrome. How much of Sam’s/Jack’s story is your own? What is your personal history with the disorder? At what age did symptoms first appear? How did that affect you growing up?

A: Sam’s story is completely fictitious, but his internal struggle with Tourette Syndrome mirrors my own quite closely. He is much more honest with himself than I was—I had a hard time accepting the fact that I couldn’t stop my movements. Somewhere, I had picked up the idea that I should be able to stop them. My symptoms first appeared when I was five. Eye blinks and shoulder jumps. Early on, those movements didn’t affect me much. My peers didn’t make a big deal of them. But in junior high, those tics (and my dishonesty about them) began affecting relationships. By high school, school was a lonely place. But again, my attitude about TS, and not the syndrome itself, deserves a fair amount of credit for that.

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about Tourette Syndrome that you wish people better understood?

A: Yes. So many people’s concept of Tourette Syndrome includes people blurting curse words. Stressing that dramatic aspect makes good TV ratings and humorous movie clips. For a fraction of those with TS, this does occur. But the majority do not swear involuntarily. The other thing I’d like to mention is that I’ve never met a person with TS who is not profoundly creative or gifted in some way. We’re good people to have around!

Q: Sam’s/Jack’s relationship with George is touching and sincere. George came along just when Sam most needed someone to believe in him. Were there any influential people in your own life who helped guide you?

A: My grandma had the rare ability to build me up and kick me in the rear at the very same time. If you’ve never had this type of person in your life, it’s quite an experience. One minute she would tell me what she saw in me, how proud she was of me. Then, bam! She’d let me have it, and point out all the areas in which I had more growing to do. But I listened to her, because I knew she loved me and I was certain she believed in me. She was a powerful guide in my life.

Q: The romance between Naomi and Sam/Jack is sometimes sweet, sometimes frustrating, but always very true-to-life. Was their romance based on any in your own life?

A: Oh sure. Dating my wife was the most irritatingly wonderful experience of my life. I never knew what was going on.She said things, did things when we were together, that I knew I should understand. It’s like we dated in code and I didn’t have the code book. So I got slugged in the shoulder quite often, which didn’t turn out to be a bad thing.

Q: Jack’s/Sam’s story is often heartbreaking, especially when it comes to his difficulties fitting in at school and his lack of meaningful friendships. Sadly, ostracism and even bullying is not uncommon among high school students. Do you have any advice for teens struggling with these challenges?

A: High school ends. A speaker told us on day one of ninth grade, “These are the best days of your life.” I heard that again during my freshman year at college. I remember thinking, he better be lying, because this is more nightmare than dream. I look around at my close friends now, years later. I’m not in contact with anyone from high school and only one guy from college, but my life is filled with great friendships—the kind everyone looks like they have in high school but few actually do. School ends, the wind blows people every which way. When that wind dies down, there will be someone there for you.

Q: The power of names to define a person is an important issue in the book. What has been the importance of names in your own life?

A: I think a name can shape a life. It can also be a marker in the road. I was born Jonathan, but nobody called me that. I was Jon, or John-Boy, or Jonno, or whatever. I think nicknames are great. They make a person feel special. But after a disastrous college relationship, I wanted to put everything behind me. It’s as if I wanted to take a shower and wash off everything about myself and who I’d been, including the name I’d been called: Jon. I reclaimed Jonathan. It’s my true name, my true self, and reclaiming it made me feel new again.

Q: Acceptance, both of yourself and of others, is a major theme in Jerk, California. Tell us why this was an important message for you to convey in writing this novel.

A: If you’re a hider, like I was, you build up walls so other people’s words and stares can’t hurt you. But you also peek over the top of that wall, and judge everyone else. If you feel rotten about yourself, it feels better if you can rip somebody. Then you don’t need to look at your own problems. I didn’t set out to write a novel about acceptance, but when I revisited the emotions of high school, it was impossible for that not to become a major theme.

Q: There is also a song titled Jerk, California (by the band Halloween, Alaska). Which came first—the song or the novel?

A: The novel came first. The band members read an early copy of the book and came up with the song. I heard it and my jaw dropped because they nailed it—the mood, the feeling. I was shocked. Halloween, Alaska did a great job.

Q: What is your favorite book? Who is your favorite musician/band?

A: My favorite book is Peace Like a River by L. Enger. I read it five pages at a time. That’s all I could handle. It was so. . .perfect. As far as music—if money was no object, I’d love to hear Sting play an acoustic set on a small stage. There is something haunting about his music that appeals to me.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A: No. I always wrote, but I didn’t think I’d be a writer. I entered college as a guitar performance major. I played classical guitar, and in bands around the Twin Cities. Writing muscled in and took over, though I still love my guitars.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your characters and stories?

A: Every story of mine contains an element lifted from real life. I need to understand an aspect of a character, or a piece of the plot. Once I find that interesting detail, my imagination takes over. I stick that familiar piece into a situation or character I know nothing about and start asking, “what if.”

Q: What’s your writing process like? Where do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

A: I write in my cave (my office). It overlooks about fifty beautiful acres of Minnesota woods and farmland. I’m a natural night owl, so I’ll often write until 3:00 AM, but I’m trying to change that. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m trying a grand experiment and now write in the morning. That frees up the evenings for the family. My only writing ritual is my pre-writing prayer. I ask God to help me write something that will make Him smile, then off I go.

Q: Who do you share your writing with first?

My wife. Always my wife. Every writer needs a brutally honest spouse, and that’s what I have! I stare at her face while she reads. It’s to the point now where she doesn’t need to say anything when she’s done. I usually end up stomping back to my cave for another rewrite.

Q: What’s next for you? Any more books in the works?

A: The books will keep coming!  I’m excited about my next novel. Rush tells the story of Jake King, a young adrenaline junkie who joins a crew of crazed firefighters. They rappel out of helicopters to take on California’s most dangerous wildfires. But joining The Rush Club, this team’s secret society, proves more deadly than any fire, both for Jake and the girl he loves. I’m thrilled with how this story is coming together! Links

The following links will connect you with Jonathan's resources. These links to third party sites will allow you to leave the Web site. The Institute is not responsible for the contents of any linked site or any link contained within those sites. We are providing these links as a convenience and the inclusion does not imply endorsement of the site by the Institute. Thank you!

Promoting improved services for troubled youth

since 1982

Jonathan Friesen

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WriteHomeStudio offers individualized, online coaching programs for young writers. Whether your child is beginning the writing journey or a passionate written communicator, a mentoring relationship provides the optimal environment for developing powerful writing skills. We bring this personal attention to every child we coach in the art and craft of writing.

​Jonathan Friesen

Training Topics