Speaker discusses living with tics
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 03:04
Marc Elliot, a man diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was a child, said university students should avoid letting assumptions about others dictate how they treat others.
Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Elliot was diagnosed with the medical condition when he was nine years old and described it to approximately 100 university students during a speech on April 10 as being like an itch that he needs to scratched. He currently travels across the country talking to students about the challenges that accompany those who have Tourette’s syndrome.
Elliot said he has gained valuable experience from the way he has been treated by others, particularly regarding people’s assumptions, which quickly translate into hurtful actions.
“The lesson I learned from these experiences is that when we are being intolerant usually we are making so many assumptions about someone else and then decide to turn those assumptions into an action,” Elliot said.
He said the worst part of living with his medical condition is his uncontrollable tic to say offensive language, a symptom displayed by less than 10 percent of patients diagnosed with the disorder. He said he was once denied access on a Greyhound bus after a black passenger heard him saying racial slurs and would sometimes direct offensive language toward his gay brother.
Elliot said he developed the ability to partially control his tics, but is sometimes discriminated against by other people when he is in public because he cannot completely prevent them from occurring. He recalled numerous accounts of intolerance, such as when a flight attendant said he was crazy, when he was called “retarded” by a Wendy’s employee in front of the entire restaurant and when a peer swore at him for disturbing her with his tics.
“This is by far the worst part of my Tourette’s because not only was saying these things hard for me to control, but I didn’t feel this stuff on the inside and it was absolutely insane,” he said.
Elliot asked students to participate in an activity where they created their own physical or verbal tic, such as shrugging your shoulders or saying “I love you” aloud, to emulate the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome. He told audience members to avoid using offensive language or gestures.
Junior Adam Bloom, co-president of U*Said, called the activity a positive experience because it helped him understand how Elliot feels on a regular basis.
“He gave us the opportunity to all stand up and do whatever we want without being offensive to anyone and yet we were still thinking, ‘Well that’s just not right to do,’” Bloom said. “Even though we have the right to do it it’s still not okay and that’s how he felt even though he had clearance to do it because of his disease.”
Elliot said it is important for people to differentiate the assumptions they make about people that are different from them. While he said it’s human nature to make judgments about other people, it’s important to not act on those beliefs and to let people live their lives.
He also said those who find it difficult to avoid making assumptions about others should try to ensure that they don’t actualize their thoughts as hurtful actions.
“I say, make an assumption and only an assumption, and why turn it into an action that might negatively impact someone else’s life, when at the end of the day we know so little about each other?” Elliot said.
Senior Jennifer Avezzano said listening to someone speak about their struggles with the disorder made the lecture meaningful. While she understands that it can be difficult to look past someone’s differences, she thinks tolerance of people who have physical and mental disorders is scarce among college students.
“I try not to be judgmental ever but it happens,” Avezzano said. “We gossip, things happen, but what’s important is to understand that what you believe [about that person] isn’t necessarily true.”
Senior Anne Olivero said she wished more students attended the lecture because the lecture was thought provoking.
“I think [tolerance] is something that you kind of forget about and let fall to the side, so just to hear it again and rethink those ideas was refreshing,” Olivero said. “I’m so glad he’s traveling across the country, I think everyone needs to hear this.”