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How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had
by Brad Cohen with Lisa Wysocky


Excerpt from Chapter 1 (Page 3)

The bark appeared to arrive on its own, fully formed as a tic. It seemed to me that one day I wasnít making that sound, and the next day I was. As with my throat clearing, I barked automatically and hardly gave it a thought. It played well enough around the house, but out in public, barking got me noticed. Peopleís amusement quotient isnít at its best when theyíre confronted with a kid making loud sounds in public. After two or three good yelps in the wrong setting, I found it pretty hard to pass them off as being some sort of goofy sounds that I liked to make just for fun.
Additionally, I was running around like a maniac, so my mother took me to the doctor. He put me on Dexedrine, which was commonly prescribed at that time for ADD and ADHD. I was never diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, but stimulants such as Dexedrine reduced my hyperactivity. Over the next few years, as my behavior progressively worsened, my medication dosages became progressively higher. At the time both my mother and my doctor thought that was the correct treatment for my hyperactivity. Later we would learn it was not necessarily so.
My—and Jeffís—extraordinarily high activity level was one of the reasons for our move to the new house and school. Mom realized that both her boys needed to stay active and to have positive male role models, so she moved us to a neighborhood that had more Jewish families and was still reasonably close to a dynamic Jewish Community Center (JCC). My brother, Jeff, loved our new house, our new school, and the new kids to make friends with. Although Jeff is a year and a half younger than I, even at that early stage his greater social ability was a sign of the growing differences between us.
I found the move highly stressful. Adapting to foreign situations had become one of my weakest points. The out-of-control changes inside filled me with a strong distaste for changes elsewhere in my life. Additionally, I kept my fears bottled up inside, which added to my stress and to my tics. I didnít like to share my feelings, and the eventual emotional toll this took was huge. Also, as I wasnít yet able to predict how bad my tics might become in any given situation, going out in public became an increasingly dicey proposition.
With social disaster always lurking outside the door, I craved routine in every other area of my life. The safe predictability of home helped me retain some small feeling of control. But even inside our new home I was not fully comfortable.
For example, my motherís bedroom was on the first floor, while the rooms Jeff and I occupied were upstairs. In our old home, all the bedrooms had been together on the second floor. That difference alone set off my anxiety. I refused to sleep in my room upstairs. Instead, I dragged my pillow and bedspread downstairs and spent every night on the couch in our wood-paneled den, using the glow of the television to ease my fear of the dark. It became important to me to have a night-light of some kind, since darkness promoted uncertainty and uncertainty equaled anxiety. Slowly, my daily and nightly routines became more and more focused on clinging to the familiar and avoiding the unpredictable.
My behavior created a vaguely ominous backdrop. If anyone other than our mother—any child-care professional, for instance—was charged with taking care of us for very long, he or she soon quit. It usually took only a single evening to scare off a baby-sitter. My mother could barely control Jeffís hyperactive behavior, and she accepted the fact that sometimes no one could control mine. My behavior had reached the point that some people, baby-sitters included, found it frightening.
I must admit that at least some of our behavior with the baby-sitters was intentional. Like children being taught by a substitute teacher, we gave our baby-sitters a hard time just because we could. Jeff and I were mischievous boys who enjoyed the chaos we were causing. It was fun to tip over furniture and throw things around the room! But I admit that it often got out of control. Jeff and I were both hyperactive kids who did not know where to draw the line. Our hyper states were fueled by increasing activity, and I can easily see how Jeff and I together were a bit much.
My grandmother Dorothy provided Momís only respite. She was my motherís mother, recently widowed, and willing to employ her free time in helping Mom out, even on short notice. We called her Dodo, and we adored her. Sometimes Jeff and I spent the night in her little apartment. She was completely accepting of my energy level and my funny noises, even if her downstairs neighbor was not. Every once in a while, he banged on the air-conditioner vent with a broom to get us to quiet down. Regrettably, tics do not care about the time of day or night, or whether the neighbors are angry about the noise.
My childhood was not all doom and gloom, however. A real ray of sunshine came into my life when Mom and Dad chipped in and bought me a terrific green bicycle. I discovered a new source of freedom outdoors—a boy on a bike can speed all over the neighborhood, making all the noises he wants, and no one thinks a thing of it! When I was riding my bike, that terrible, growing conspicuousness that was beginning to dog me everywhere dissolved in the wind and the motion and the exertion of riding.
I named my bike the Green Dragon, and to me its speed was unmatched. I challenged other kids to race, and I usually won. Luckily, the Green Dragon was as resilient as it was fast. It survived two major accidents, one when I propelled it head-on into a brick wall and another when I flipped over a sewage drain and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. I got a concussion, but the Green Dragon was unscathed.
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