last chat I told you a bit about the damage I suffered myself from harboring
a "Big Secret" for 19 years of my life. I said I believed
that "coming clean" about your TS in the classroom is one
of the most risky, nerve-wracking, and courageous leaps of faith that
you could ever take. I also said I fervently believed that it is one
of the best, most rewarding things you could ever do for yourself. I'll
now continue giving you the reasons why I believe this is so:
The elephant in the corner. Don't fool yourself - people see
that you are different anyway. Whether they see the tics, whether they
see the other symptoms that increase when tics are suppressed, whether
they see the guardedness, distance, or low esteem that one emanates
when one is harbouring a Big Secret, or whether they see the classroom
modifications put in place by teachers who know about your TS, they
all know something is up. People will come up with labels anyway - you
might as well make sure that they are at least using the PROPER ones.
Once, after conducting a very successful in-service for a boy initially
petrified of others learning of his Big Secret, I asked the class how
many knew this boy had had SOMETHING, even if they didn't know what
it was called and how to understand and react to it. To his astonishment
virtually every hand in the room raised.
Big Secret anxiety eliminated. By not talking about your "elephants",
you send a message to others that this is a bad thing, and they should
therefore pretend they don't see it (unless of course you are a bully,
in which case you gorge on the feast). Everyone is uncomfortable, no
one is talking, and it erects walls and heightens stress (therefore
symptoms) which makes the classroom even MORE acutely uncomfortable.
By "coming clean" and eliminating the stress of suppressing,
the stress of worrying about what will happen if you are discovered,
and the stress of dealing with ill at ease peers, you diminish your
symptoms -- exactly that which you "came clean" ABOUT!
People can be more accepting than you think. IF you give them the
chance. It is unrealistic and unfair of you to expect people to understand
who you are, what you have, and what you need if you don't tell them.
On my website are letters from children
who have been present at an in-service of mine…..one child wrote that
before the in-service he didn't know the boy with TS couldn't help what
he did. Another didn't believe that such a thing as TS could even exist
until I talked about it. Both then said they were glad they now knew
so that they could be nicer to the child with TS.
Think of it this way: how would you react yourself if you saw someone
running down the street waving his arms, rolling his head, and screaming
in a frenzy? How would this reaction change if someone then leaned over
and told you that this person was deathly allergic to bee-stings, and
had a wasp down his shirt? Suddenly, given this context, your tolerance
and empathy for the behaviour rises and you feel bad for your initial
judgment of this person.
Beat the bully! Bullies thrive on perceived inadequacies, on
unwanted traits, and in general on the elephants that make us uncomfortable
and we wish to ignore. By openly discussing your TS, by thrusting it
into the limelight and even joking with people about it, you succeed
in robbing the bully of all his material. Suddenly the tables are turned
- some will be curious about your TS and will want to ask questions,
some will admire the courage and self-acceptance you showed, some may
start to defend you to others who do not understand, some will shrug
and say "so that's what that was" and move on, but ALL will
now be aware. This puts a bully on the defensive: imitations are more
likely to be seen as rude and un-cool.
But why just take MY word for it? Here's what a young boy wrote
to me after I came into his class and talked about TS:
you for explaining to My classmates that I have Tourettes and that I'm
not doing tics because I want to. Now I think they understand alot better.
Now I have alot of new friends now. Thank you for coming in our class.
only found out recently that this boy's class wrote HIM a letter also!
Here it is……..
[the boy with TS]
-it probably was hard for you to tell us. -Sorry for being not nice
to you. We thought you were just trying to bug us. especially from the
girls We'll try to treat you nicer. -thanks for helping us with spelling
-sorry for not playing with you sometimes and for the way our friends
treat you sometimes -sorry we didn't believe you before when you tried
to tell us about Tourette's. -thanks for being a friend -thanks for
letting us know.
wish more than anything I had received a letter just like this when
I was 10, but I didn't have the chance to know kids could be this understanding.
Now YOU do though. Don't blow YOUR chance, OK?