Scholarship Essay – Marissa L.

Marissa was a first place winner of a 2024 NJCTS Scholarship.

Here is the essay she included with her application.

At the age of 7, I began to tic. It started as sniffing, inspiration, and expiration and progressed to uncontrollable picking of my nails and stretching and contracting of my shoulders. It impacted my ability to sit still and focus at school. People noticed and it made them uncomfortable. I was always asked to stop. No one understood what was happening.

As I moved into middle school, my tics changed. I began squinting my eyes uncontrollably. I could not focus or read, and I could not stop or hide it. I then developed a stomach tic that forces me to bend over and stretch back up. It happens all day long making it difficult to sit. It also began to give me stomach pain. At the same time I began having migraines. My pediatrician referred me to a neurologist and within minutes I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS). As he described what was going on in my head, I finally felt as if I was understood.

We began working with him and with a psychologist trained in Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) therapy. Over the years, I have tried all of the recommended medications. Those that helped came with such severe side-effects that I couldn’t continue with them. The rest did not help. In the end, I was not able to find help through medication.

My diagnosis also meant that I could share with others what was going on. I started with family and close friends, but soon I was speaking to everyone in school and at my studio. I was constantly explaining Tourettes to everyone. Happily, with understanding came support. I have received specific accommodations in school that have allowed me to excel. School became more manageable and enjoyable.

Most interesting to me is that I don’t tic while I dance. Apparently there are many examples of singers and athletes and others whose tics stop when they begin performing. So beyond my love for dance, its movement, expression, connection, and challenge, it also was a break from my constant tics.

Similarly, I discovered American Sign Language (ASL). After struggling for years with the usual, mandatory choices for world languages, ASL opened a whole new world of communication. Like dancing, ASL requires us to be physically expressive, listening by watching and sharing with our hands and our faces. I took to this language immediately, with my tics often slowing or stopping when I communicate. I was exposed to an entirely new community of people and a new way of connecting with others.

Through it all, nothing has reduced or removed my tics, so I have worked hard to develop skills that allow me to succeed. Although I might need extra help at times, working through TS has helped me develop effective study skills, build a stronger work ethic, and learn to advocate for myself. I am proud of my academic record and I am determined to be successful moving forward.



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