For young children to take to school for his peers to read or have read to them by a teacher
Matthew had many tics. A tic is when a part of your face or body makes movements that you don’t want it to make. At first, Matthew was just blinking his eyes a lot. His mother took him to an eye doctor, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with his eyes.
Then Matthew started jerking his head and shoulders and making little humming sounds. Sometimes, in school, the humming would get quite loud and the teacher would complain. Some of the children in his class began to tease him and call him mean names, like Matthew the jerk.
When Matthew’s parents saw how unhappy all of this blinking and jerking was making him, and when he told them that he couldn’t help what he was doing, they took him to another doctor called a pediatrician, who
takes care of young children. Even this doctor couldn’t figure out why Matthew was doing all of those things, so his parents took him to still another doctor.
This doctor was called a neurologist and he knew a lot about the brain, and how it is the boss of what all people do with their eyes, their voice and all the muscles of their body.
After he had examined Matthew and done a lot of tests and talked to him and to his parents, he said, “Matthew has Tourette Syndrome.” “What is that?” Matthew’s parents asked, because they had never heard of it.
The doctor explained that Tourette Syndrome was named for a French doctor, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who first described all the things Matthew had been doing, way back in 1885, after he had cared for a number of patients with the same problem.
He told them that a lot of doctors are studying to find out what causes Tourette Syndrome. They do know already that it always starts at a very young age. It is much more common among boys than girls. It usually doesn’t go away as the child gets older, but there is medicine or behavioral therapy that can help most of the people who have Tourette Syndrome.
The doctors who know a lot about these medicines feel that they work because they block some of the chemicals that cause everyone to move and make sounds. Everyone has these chemicals in their bodies, but when you have Tourette Syndrome, maybe you have too much of them and that’s why the medicine helps. You can’t take too much medicine, however, because it can make you very sleepy, and then you can’t pay attention in school and do your work well. Some patients even feel they have been helped by not eating or drinking certain things that may contain harmful chemicals or that they may be allergic to.
The doctor told Matthew and his parents that it was important for him not to be too anxious about his tics. When you are worried and upset, he said, it can make the tics worse. If people scold and tease you, that can get you very upset, so it is helpful if your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends and teachers understand your problem.
Finally, the doctor told Matthew and his parents that there have been people with Tourette Syndrome who have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians and scientists. Indeed one of the greatest names in English literature—Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first English dictionary—had Tourette Syndrome. “They didn’t let those nasty tics get them down or discourage them, and you shouldn’t either.”
He explained that most peoples’ brains tell them when to move their arms or legs or blink their eyes or use their voice. “But when you have Tourette Syndrome, it’s as though the engine of your car has started when you haven’t turned on the ignition. We don’t know for sure why this happens, but we do know that Matthew can’t help what he’s doing.