State To Cut Off Tourettes Group

By Allegra Tiver

Corzine is proposing that funding for the Tourettes Syndrome Association of New Jersey be cut by $1.25 million, to nothing – something Dan Seymour, public relations director for the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, called a “budget casualty.”

“The funding we receive from the state is really what keeps the agency going,” said Faith Rice, executive director for the Tourettes Syndrome Association of New Jersey, which receives occasional corporate donations and assistance from the United Way.

Gail Walker of Washington Township and her son Christopher, now in 11th grade at Washington Township High School, have been closely involved with the agency for more than five years.

“The association is demystifying the syndrome so adults and kids can say, ‘I can deal with that,'” Walker said. “It has allowed them to view kids that are different in a different light.”

Walker said she learned to educate herself and advocate for her son through the support of the association, which has held in-services on the disorder for both teachers and students.

When “an incident” in 7th grade science class had half the students saying Christopher “shouldn’t be in this school” and the other half arguing “this is something he can’t control,” Walker said she felt like she was changing the world.

The association, started in 1994, began receiving state funding in 1999 – $150,000 used to launch programs like support groups, telephone help-lines and school in-service programs.

In 2005, the association established the New Brunswick-based New Jersey Center for Tourettes Syndrome – a collaborative effort among the association, Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – which provides medical diagnosis and psychiatric treatment, educates the public and performs DNA and cell research.

Before the center opened, Rice said, families would travel outside New Jersey for diagnosis – sometimes taking up to nine months, as well as treatment. The center would be threatened without continued funding.

“You can’t have families leaving the state for treatment, kids being ignored in the classroom or bouncing from doctor to doctor to get help – it’s unacceptable.”