Oh What A Tangled (Neural) Web We Weave: A first-person account of Tourette Syndrome (part 1, background)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This multipart series first appeared in the March 2010 edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychology Practice and also can be found on Life’s A Twitch, a website run by Canadian psychologist Dr. B. Duncan McKinlay.

I am a 35-year-old Caucasian male diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I first displayed tics around age 7 and was diagnosed at age 19.

As a youth my symptoms were severe, misperceived and coped with predominantly through camouflage and suppression. My symptoms persisted into adulthood without attenuation. My current Yale Global Tic Severity Scale score is 44. My tics are treated behaviourally, utilizing techniques that I first attempted at age 20.

I first catalogued my experiences with TS — relating my observations to the content of my studies – in my undergraduate years. These notes evolved into presentations, newsletter columns, magazine articles and online blogging.

During my graduate work I began attending international research symposia and I was active in various support and advocacy organizations. I completed my applied Masters and Doctoral dissertations in the area of TS and associated disorders. My Masters was a social psychological study and focused on the impact of attitude as a function of coping success.

My dissertation united the existing body of neuroanatomical knowledge with behavioural learning principles to develop a comprehensive model of tic formation. I am also the creator of the popular website Life’s A Twitch and have authored the book “Nix Your Tics! Eliminate Unwated Tic Symptoms: A How-To Guide For Young People.”

Currently, I am a registered psychologist in Ontario, Canada, providing highly specialized tertiary care to children and adolescents with complex TS since 2004 via the “Brake Shop”, a clinic model of my conception.

This article is a culmination of each role that I carry. My account blends 15 years of professional education and experience with almost 30 years of being personally touched by symptoms of TS, OCD and ADHD. This first-hand report highlights how learning likely influences the appearance and treatment of TS and it concludes with a glimpse into living with multiple difficulties in self-regulation.

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