Make Room For The Stuttering

What Makes You Tic?

Posted on: November 25, 2011

Last week I went to a presentation on tolerance. The name of the program was called “What Makes You Tic?” The speaker was Marc Elliott, a man in his twenties who was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when he was 9 years old.

He has lived with strange physical tics for many years, as well as inappropriate outbursts of name calling, cursing, and loud, odd noises.

His most-notable tic is/was the slamming together of his teeth, loudly enough to hear his upper and lower teeth grind and make contact. Imagine doing that for over 20 years!

His talk was very inspirational. He shared about how he often found himself explaining to people in school or out in public that his weird movements or sounds were not intended to bother or offend anyone, but that they were involuntary.

He also has lived with a rare intestinal disorder, making the “taken-for-granted” bodily task of relieving himself a particular challenge as well. He talked about never wanting to use a public restroom. He always felt he was being judged. Even when all he could see, and others could see, were ankles and shoes at the bottom of a stall.

If he heard someone come in to the bathroom, he would make himself stop “his business” in mid-action, in order not to be judged (or so he thought, in his mind.)

This is very similar to stuttering. How often have you chose not to speak, or switched words, for fear of how someone would react?

During his talk, Marc  made reference to stuttering. I was not surprised. I knew there was some closeness ( in the brain area) between stuttering and Tourette’s syndrome. And I am always interested in how people with differences manage in their daily lives.

Marc shared that in the last 5 months, he has gained such a level of acceptance for his tics, that he rarely tics in public anymore. He said he almost never thinks about the fear of how others may perceive him, which has given him control over his tics. This is where he made reference to stuttering. And what surprised me, frankly.

He indicated that like Tourettes, if people who stutter could just forget that they stutter, like we do when we sing (!), we would be able to reduce or eliminate stuttering, like he has done with his tics.

He never quite told us how he has eliminated his tics. He said we could read about that in his book, (of the same title, “What Makes You Tic?“) which is due out by the end of the year.

At the end of the program, many people started lining up to speak with him. I got in line, deciding to let him know (gently) what I thought of his comment about stuttering.

I was close to the front of the line, and listened while some young girls cooed about how amazing and inspirational he was. An excited group of three got another friend to take a picture of them with Marc.

When it was my turn, I introduced myself, using some voluntary stuttering until real stuttering took hold. I told him I enjoyed his talk, but was a little curious about his reference to stuttering. I shared with him that if not thinking about stuttering was all it took for me to not stutter, like he no longer tics, then I needed to know the secret right away.

I also said, “I bet you didn’t think anyone who stutters would be in this audience, huh?” He did seem genuinely surprised and commented that he was glad I had come up to him. He also said he was grateful that I had shared a little about stuttering, and that maybe he needs to get more information before he “uses that connection” again.

We spoke for just a few minutes, but I knew I had his attention. While we spoke, he “ticked” quite obviously – his mouth clamped tight a couple of times and his gaze was all over the place. Maybe it was because I was stuttering freely, or like me (with my stuttering), he tics more one-on-one with someone than he does/did when he was on the stage talking and using a microphone.

I think he was actually surprised that I came up to him and had the guts to gently point out (for me anyway) that his analogy about “not thinking” about stuttering wasn’t the answer.

He thanked me and gave me a hug before I left.

I was glad I went up to him and was honest and stuttered openly. We all learn from each other.

8 Responses to "What Makes You Tic?"

Really nice story Pam. Thanks for writing. Marc sure is an inspirational guy. Talking about tics, I make a tic type sound when I stammer.

Hiten, that’s very interesting. I know quite a few people who do that. A young friend of mine “clicks her tongue” , much less than she used to, but I think it was maybe an effort to not stutter. I do think there is a connection between stuttering and Tourette’s syndrome. That is the main reason I went to hear this speaker – I had no idea he would mention stuttering, and I am sure he had no idea there would be someone who stutters in the audience. 🙂

You said he ticked, yet earlier in his speech he said he never ticked anymore?

I suspect he still ticks, but doesn’t notice them as much. They don’t get in his way, much like some stutterers don’t focus on their blocks. They don’t entirely go away, but focus (and memory) stays on the content and communication, rather than “OMG, I just blocked again.”

Good point! When he was on stage, talking to the audience, he was virtually tic-free, to the observer. But when we talked one-on-one, I noticed his ticking was quite pronounced when it was just him and me talking. I watched him chat with the young girls ahead of me, and really didn’t notice his tics at all.
Maybe when we talked, he felt free to “be”, as I was not holding back either.
I notice that when I am at my most accepting of myself and at my gentlest, this is when I stutter most!

Yes, even i think there is a very close connection between Tourette’s syndrome and Stutter, especially the way in which the mind thinks and behaves. I’m really glad that you’ve blogged your experience Pam. It has been very inspirational and useful at the same time. Thanks!!

Very interesting. I always thought Tourette’s and stuttering are similar, except that I thought people with Tourette’s had even less “control” than stutterers do. But here, it seems like, at least when giving speeches, he has managed to significantly reduce his tics. I wonder if people with Tourette’s tic in private. I know I am completely fluent when alone and talking to animals or small children. Basically, when the talking does not matter in any meaningful way.

I think it is great you educated him. I recently read a book that alluded to the same idea. I find it inspirational to hear other people’s journeys in life dealing with issues that to some are insurmountable and to others reachable.

Magnificent! (As usual. 😛 )

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