Tourette’s Syndrome: What makes me tic(k)

A student writes about being diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome in elementary school, and overcoming its challenges.

EMMA STEVENS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When my whispered conversations would turn to loud cackles, my first-grade teacher would interject. 

“Dylan, do you need to go for a walk?” they’d patronizingly asked, as if I were a dog. 

I’d lap the hallway to release pent-up energy from my system, but involuntary, full-on squats — during which I’d stretch my arms as high as they’d go — would stop me in my tracks. 

I stared into each classroom I passed. I watched the “normal” kids work away while I constantly scrunched my eyebrows, arched my neck and jerked my head backward. I was a spectacle.

By the time I returned to class, my body ached. So did my soul.

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when I was 6 years old. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive and involuntary movements and vocalizations called “tics,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

My neurologist also diagnosed me with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which involve short attention spans mixed with hyperactivity, and impulsive and compulsive behavior, respectively. 

An intersection of these disorders, which I like to call the “package deal,” is common for people with Tourette’s. More than 1,300 participants with Tourette’s in a 16-year study by the Tourette Syndrome Association International Consortium for Genetics, “nearly one-third were diagnosed with both ADHD and OCD.”

To put it lightly, I was a nightmare in the classroom. While my teachers and classmates eventually learned how to conduct class as my tics raged on out in the open, my ADHD still landed me in serious trouble — hence the walks.

I had no idea how to suppress my urges. They were involuntary and all-consuming. Sometimes, I couldn’t make it four words into a sentence without having an uncomfortable vocal tic that came from my throat. Forming basic sentences felt like climbing Mount Everest. 

I internalized a desperate need for acceptance and a longing for comfort in my own skin. By refusing to sit still, telling people my every thought, and embracing my distracting behavior, I tried to gain likeability among my peers.

Thankfully, bullying and mocking were minimal and teachers, friends and family gifted me with patience and understanding.

In elementary school, my family and I embarked on the Feingold diet, a holistic diet that we followed for more than five years. The diet calls for cutting all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Additives can trigger a variety of health and behavioral problems, according to extensive research by Dr. Ben Feingold, a pediatric allergist.

At times, the diet exasperated how different and alienated I felt. However, I ate completely organic for several years, and it did wonders for my emotional and physical health. It also allowed me to compile a comprehensive list of the best cereals from Whole Foods. Koala Crisp took the cake, with an honorable mention going to Panda Puffs. 

Today, I feel privileged for receiving such immense support and, for that matter, a clear-cut diagnosis and solution. 

After years of approaching my issues holistically due to research showing stimulants exacerbating Tourette’s symptoms, I’m currently prescribed Adderall for my ADHD and experience tics far less frequently. Adderall isn’t a magic pill and shouldn’t be glorified as such. However, it’s incredibly helpful for my attention span. Taking it is not a concession to my disorders or an indication that I’m weak. 

Now a senior in college, my symptoms have for the most part subsided. I look back not ashamed or embarrassed, but proud. I made it through the worst of it.

Somewhere, there is a third-grader with tics just like me. Perhaps their teachers shrug their shoulders or scold them for disruptions they are unable to stop, causing them to feel confused, isolated and ridiculed. 

If they ever read this, I want them to know that one day, they’ll wake up and things will be better. These troubling and confusing feelings will one day pass and will have evolved into self-love and a new perspective.

I continue to work hard, stand up for and with those who are considered “different” and promote the radical idea that everyone deserves respect and support. 

Whether diagnosed with Tourette’s or not, that’s what makes us tic(k).

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