Moving past Tourette’s


Alexis Madlang

Kay McAdams has lived with Tourette’s syndrome for almost half of her lifetime. With time they have learned how to educate others about Tourette’s and how to cope with their condition.

By Emily McCluskey, Hagerty High School

Yelling out “I am a truck” or “I hate the British” seems like a normal day for the class clown and an easy way to get a laugh. However, sophomore Kay McAdams is not laughing. McAdams lives with Tourette’s syndrome (TS).

Tourette’s Syndrome, is a condition characterized by tics, or uncontrollable movements or sounds. Tourette’s is more common than most would assume. The CDC estimates that 1 in 360 children (6-17), just in the United States, have been diagnosed with Tourette’s. However, the condition does not affect everyone the same.

McAdams also has physical tics like jerking their head and shaking their hand aggressively. Even though McAdams has no control over this movement they still feel isolated by their difference from the student body.

McAdams was diagnosed in elementary school when they were 7. The first sign of their condition was slight but consistent movements of their head and hands, a tic they still has now. As they got older, their tics became increasingly noticeable.

McAdams struggles with picking up on other people’s tics or other outside factors like songs or trends on social media, which is common for those diagnosed with Tourette’s.

“Actually a lot of sounds on social media do trigger my tics, which is very, very easy, like the berries and cream sound [on TikTok],” McAdams said. “Any sounds that are high pitched or make a lot of high pitch, fast beats [trigger them].”

Although treatments and medication for Tourret’s exist, there is no known cure for the condition. Since Tourette’s is characterized in the nervous system, treatment options include: botox injections, anti seizure medications, and dopamine blocking medications.

“Physical therapy does help me a lot and there are some drug treatments like haloperidol and tetrabenazine [dopamine blocking medications] that help to suppress tics, but it doesn’t completely stop it,” McAdams said.

Outside of their condition, McAdams deals with repeated teasing and judgement from her peers and even strangers. Despite McAdams’ good nature and positive attitude towards their condition, people who are less informed about tourettes tend to have less of an understanding of why McAdams’ acts the way they do.

“I never really felt normal or okay because I feel like everybody’s gonna look at me or they’re gonna have an opinion about me before they even meet me,” McAdams said.

Coping with Tourette’s can be as difficult as coping with any other condition or trauma. The constant battle of trying to ‘act normal’ or fit in with everyone else can be emotionally draining for anyone. Everyone handles situations in their own way. Whatever it may be for, processing a situation or decompressing can help to relieve some of McAdams’ tics.

“I like hanging around friends because I feel comfortable being around people I know. It helps me not tic as much and I won’t feel as alone,” McAdams said.

A tic attack is when someone diagnosed with TS begins to have one tic after another rapidly. This can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness and, in McAdam’s situation, a seizure.

Having Tourette’s at any age is a struggle, but the high school environment can be a struggle, especially for McAdams.

Last year, McAdams was provoked into a tic attack in school. A student in her class was mimicking their tics which caused McAdams to have a seizure.

“It makes me feel unsafe,” McAdams said. “It’s hard because I know a lot of people can’t relate to me and it makes me isolated.”

People who have been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome are still human despite their differences. It is preferred that they are treated similarly and with the same amount of respect as any other person.

“I would say that just because people view you as weird it is not a negative thing to have Tourette’s, and anybody that tries to tell you that it is, you don’t need them in your life,” McAdams said.

This story was originally published on Hagerty Journalism Today on November 3, 2021.