NPR recently interviewed a few people with Tourette’s syndrome about their experiences. One woman, named Jess Thom, admitted that it’s not her tics–like saying the word “biscuit” about 16,000 times a day–that makes it difficult, it’s people misunderstanding what living with Tourette’s is like. Many are diagnosed with Tourette’s at a young age–and Tourette’s in children isn’t really rare at all; around 1 in 100 young people are diagnosed with it during school. One of the main issues surrounding Tourette’s in children is bullying because many kids aren’t exposed to it and don’t understand what it means.
Tourette’s syndrome defined
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Tourette’s syndrome as “a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.” The direct cause of Tourette’s still evades researchers, but it’s believed that it has to do with neurotransmitters have a difficult time sending communication between nerve cells. Because tics come and go in severity, Tourette’s is often misdiagnosed as something else psychological, when it’s actually neurological.
Stigma surrounding Tourette’s in children and teens
There’s a stigma surrounding Tourette’s in children and teens makes it harder for them to get through school. In the article, Michael Chichioco (a high schooler with Tourette’s syndrome) opened up about his issues with bullying earlier in school. When he was younger, peers would try to get him to have outbursts at inappropriate times because he had a rare form of Tourette’s syndrome called coprolalia, which makes him have uncontrollable outbursts of “bad” words. How did he deal with it? He tried to actively remember they didn’t know what he was going through. Now Chichioco is a youth ambassador and strives to educate others about how Tourette’s in children and youth works.
Having Tourette’s isn’t the end
As an example of someone with more than mild Tourette’s becoming successful, Jess Thom, the woman from before, has reached success in her own way. She decided she wanted to perform in theater because “it was the only seat in the theater from which she couldn’t be asked to leave.” This is because verbal and motor tics make it difficult for those with Tourette’s to go to the movies or places where someone is expected to be calm and quiet. Her live show is called Backstage in Biscuit Land and it includes her experiences living with Tourette’s syndrome.
Thom’s success story is one of many and it shows that Tourette’s in children doesn’t have to hinder their future success, they just have to do it differently.