The other day I started a series describing ways that tics (from Tourette Syndrome) can be misinterpreted by others. The first blog on this topic dealt with something I have personally experienced: tics being misinterpreted as signs of impatience or boredom. Today I am going to deal with a misconception that I don't deal with personally, but that I imagine is not uncommon for those with certain vocal tics: tourette syndrome being mistaken for a cold or another contagious illness. As coughing & throat clearing are two quite common vocal tics, it's not difficult for NT's to make the assumption that someone is sick with a contagious illness. This might seem like a benign misunderstanding to someone who has never dealt with this type of reaction; after all, a physical illness would seem to inspire more sympathy than tourette syndrome. This is not the case, however--it seems to be human nature to conclude that anything that resembles a contagious illness must be contagious and that anyone who appears sick has hostile intentions & is deliberately roaming the world, trying to infect the healthy. There is no doubt some kind of evolutionary advantage to reacting this way, but there is also no doubt that this reaction adds to the distress of the person with tourette.
"But I can't tell!" is the reaction that I get nearly every single time that I mention that I have tourette syndrome. It's not that I'm symptomless--I definitely tic--but rather that my tics are misinterpreted as being something other than they are--the result of random neurons misfiring in my brain.
The content on this website mostly comes from my perspective as a youth services librarian with disabilities. The further I travel along life's road, the more entwined these two parts of my identity become. Librarian: I have an MLS from Rutgers University and have working in public libraries for nearly 20 years. The focus on my career has always been youth services. Disabled: I've been disabled more than twice as long as I've been a librarian. My experience started at birth when I was immediately diagnosed with cleft palate. Also present was a non-verbal learning disability (NLD) for short. This was not formally diagnosed until I was 19, leading to years of frustration. My Tourette Syndrome was not present at birth, but surely started young as I don't ever remember living without it. The Tourette was also not diagnosed until adulthood, further compounding my frustration. Coincidentally, I was also diagnosed with IBD (more commonly known as Chron's\Ulcerative Colitis) at the age of 19. That was another easy diagnosis--as with cleft palate, they look and they see it.