Monday, March 07, 2011

A Brilliant 17-Year-Old Student With Tourette’s Learns How to Live With His Diagnosis and Make the Grade Anyway; He’s Looking at Schools Like Brown University

Dear Readers:

I just can’t resist a story like this. This is a student who is going to make it despite the issues he’s faced. Success stories like this make me so happy and thrilled to know that our future will be better, because a teen already navigated a difficult syndrome and still faced the world head on. I applaud Oliver for forging ahead despite Tourette's and getting top grades at his school. He was recently accepted to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and San Diego State University and is waiting responses from other universities. Here is an essay he wrote revealing what it’s like to have Tourette’s– Diana

By Oliver Hegge

My childhood was the same as any other kid’s in elementary school. I had friends that I played many sports with such as baseball, soccer, and basketball, and found a love of reading by delving into the depths of books like The Hardy Boys and Harry Potter.
In 5th grade, I started to have what I thought were bad habits. For some reason that I couldn’t fathom, I would get urges to shake my head or make soft noises. These bad habits would come one at a time and would eventually fade away, so I never thought much of them.

Sixth grade is when things escalated. These bad habits started to come with other ones, and before long, I found myself constantly twitching and making noises. While it was hard enough adjusting to life in middle school, I had the added discomfort of not knowing what was going on with my body. It was extremely embarrassing when I would catch people staring at me. I felt ashamed that I could not control my body.
In 7th grade, I finally found out what was wrong. I had a disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome, and my bad habits were called tics. During this time, I participated in a research study at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study helped me to understand and cope with having the disorder by supplying me with strategies called competing responses. The program helped me to deal with Tourette’s without the use of drugs.

Having Tourette’s Syndrome has impacted me tremendously in my life. It has molded me into a person with many sides to my personality. No matter what I do, I always make sure that I do my best because I don’t want people to judge me by my appearance. I want them to know me not as the, “weird kid who twitches and makes weird noises,” but as someone who is reliable, intelligent, and considerate.

I reserve my judgments about people until I have a conversation with them. All too often I am reminded of the ugly fact that most people develop ideas about people that can be untrue. Close friends have told me that the first time they met me they thought I was on drugs. I keep these experiences fresh in my memory because they remind me not to judge others.

Tourette’s Syndrome has often posed a challenge to learning. There are times where my attention is divided between dealing with my tics and paying attention in class. I have however, succeeded in getting straight A’s all throughout high school because of my aptitude for learning and willingness to work. It is through determination that I have been able to keep my studies up and become respected by my teachers and peers.

Tourette’s Syndrome is the biggest challenge in my life. I can’t choose to stop twitching like I can choose to turn off a light. I can’t run away from it or try to ignore it. It is always there, no matter how badly I might want it to disappear. Yet this burden has given me a perspective on life that few can boast of having. I understand that one has to take the initiative in life if one wants to truly live.

I could easily live a sheltered life, choosing not to participate in social events and shrinking away from forming meaningful relationships with others. Instead, I refuse to allow Tourette’s to control my life and relationships. Tourette’s has motivated me to be outgoing and to take leadership roles. I am the president of the Knights and Knightettes, which is an elite student organization dedicated to serving my high school. I took this leadership role to prove to myself that Tourette’s cannot hold me back from contributing to society in a positive way.

The greatest lesson that I took from the UCLA study is: I may have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s doesn’t have me.