After all these years, Matt Spurlin still remembers that one specific incident.
His teacher called him out in class because he was making a noise that sounded like a frog.
“She basically stopped the whole class and made fun of me,” recalls Hopkinsville resident Spurlin, 39, who still struggles with the neurological disorder that caused him to make that frog-like sound.
Now married and a father of four, Spurlin says things are much better today for the sufferers of Tourette syndrome, who have a chemical imbalance in their brains which causes them to make the involuntary movements and sounds, or vocal tics, which are characteristic of the disorder.
Spurlin and his wife Rachel have been working during the past several months to educate people in their local community about the disorder in hopes that they will have a better understanding of it.
“It’s a big learning curve for everybody,” observes Rachel Spurlin, who notes that the more people who know about Tourette syndrome and understand what it is, the better things with be.
Particularly with children, onlookers may think the youngsters are misbehaving.
They may believe they’re not listening or that they are being loud or obnoxious.
None of the above is true, and the Spurlins, who have two sons with the disorder and a daughter who may face a diagnosis in the future, say people with Tourette just want others to know they’re normal.
“My biggest thing is that Tourette syndrome people are normal people even though they “tic,” make funny noises or weird movements,” Rachel says. “They want to be treated like anybody else.”
She advises anyone who notices a person with the symptoms to just ignore them.
Act like you don’t see the involuntary movements or hear the sounds a person with Tourette makes.
Rachel and Matt note that people with the disorder will sometime try to suppress the movements when they’re around other people, but doing so can result in a feeling of being tired and drained.
Like Matt, people with the disorder can also develop migraines if they don’t “tic” when they need to. When Spurlin was growing up, he would bite or chew on his lip or tap on something to keep from making the involuntary movements. Sometimes he would go to the bathroom and let out all of his tics before then returning to his classroom, but the adult Spurlin advises that it’s best to be oneself.
“If you have it, just do it,” he says of the involuntary characteristics.
There is no cure for Tourette syndrome, although there are medications that may help some people.
Such medicines were not for Spurlin, but he says they may work for others.
He also suggests CBD oil. A few drops under the tongue does help a little, Spurlin says.
He says he believes things are much better for sufferers today, for his sons and others, than they were for people who exhibited such symptoms in the past and didn’t have the acceptance of today.
“I definitely feel it’s more acceptable now as far as people knowing about it,” says Spurlin, who recalls how teachers had a difficult time with it when he was growing up and was a student.
Now people have better access to information, and it helps to explain about Tourette to others.
Spurlin has talked to people at his church, his wife has shared information with their children’s teachers, and when they go to the movies, the family explains to fellow movie-goers sitting around them how Spurlin and his sons might exhibit some of the signs of the syndrome as they enjoy the showing.
Matt Spurlin notes that a recent movie, “Motherless Brooklyn,” features a main character who has Tourette syndrome. The movie isn’t focused on Tourette, but even so, it puts the disorder out there.
Spurlin urges anyone who thinks he may have the disorder to do his research.
Visit a doctor.
Read about it so you can tell other people.
For a long time, Spurlin didn’t talk about Tourette, out of embarrassment and because of the way that other people would treat him. But talking about it helps people understand the disorder, he says.
“We’re just really trying to educate people,” notes Spurlin’s wife, who explains that the thing about Tourette syndrome is that the disorder isn’t as noticeable as other conditions.
“With Tourette, it just honestly looks like they are doing it on purpose or they can’t control themselves,” she observes.
Rachel says there is no cure for Tourette, and the impact it has can vary.
Holidays like Christmas can bring a stress of their own, along with summer breaks, vacations and other out-of-the-ordinary times, when Tourette sufferers are struggling with something that isn’t routine.
Any kind of change can require adjustment because it isn’t a part of what they do normally.
Rachel notes that she and her family have been able to educate people who are close to them and who they come in contact with on a regular basis, but she says Tourette isn’t being talked about enough.
“We just really want to educate people on what Tourette syndrome is,” she says. “It’s a very common condition.”
Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.