It Can Seem Funny… But It Isn’t

Posted on December 6, 2012

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By Lauriate Roly

Only in recent years have I learned about the term Tourette’s Syndrome. From early childhood until she reached adulthood, my dear sister would make funny faces, scrunch up her nose and move her lips in convulsive looking gyrations that sometimes made others, especially her schoolmates, think she was making faces at them. Her eyes would blink constantly and frequently she would extend her arms straight out beside her and jiggle her torso like she was doing some kind of dance. The family all knew that she had some kind of sickness but of course none of us had ever heard the term Tourette’s.

She was always a very sensitive girl, a little on the plump side, and these afflictions caused her much embarrassment and merciless ridicule from her classmates. Fortunately we had a wonderful family doctor who went to special lengths to help her to cope with the problem and gradually almost completely overcome the involuntary gyrations and sudden movements.

She was only a year younger than I, and before I was educated to the fact she was suffering from an uncontrolled condition, I often teased and mocked her by imaging her whenever she went through one of her sessions. Naturally she would cry and always, my parents made certain I suffered appropriately for my insensitive and uncivilized behavior.

I don’t know how they managed to “cure” her. She grew up to be a very nice looking woman. She had lots of boyfriends before she found the one she loved, got married and had a fine group of healthy kids, who were all born healthy and with no indications that they suffered from the affliction that affected their mother.

I give special credit to the family doctor who went to great pains to explain to our family, to her friends, teachers and classmates a few simple measures each should take to create a calm and quiet atmosphere around her, especially when they would notice her movements would become active and pronounced. Most of her teachers were nuns and if they noticed her demeanor suddenly become erratic, they would gently touch her and lead her away from the crowd, or softly and gently say her name, “Margaret”, and she was able to calm herself down and in a few moments the grimacing or jumping would abate and she could continue as any normal little girl. However even through later years, there was always a trace of the twitching and pursed lips whenever she was overtired or upset about something.

A funny incident we heard about from the Sister Superior. As in most Catholic schools it was often the practice to recite a litany before actual class studies started. One day, as the litany progressed, where the teacher would recite the name of a certain saint, and after which the pupils would softly and reverently reply “Pray for us”, my sister went into one of her “fits”. The nun, noticing the change and recognizing my sister’s actions, very softly called out her name, “Margaret Chapleau”. At that moment, in obedient unison, the whole class answered , “Pray for us”.

Teacher and class, and Margaret, exploded into fits of laughter and the story traveled throughout the school. It was quite comical and I think it made Margaret feel like a star for a little while.

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Born in Montreal, Lauriate is bilingual; his mother a Geordie from Newcastle on Tyne, his father a French Canadian Quebecer. Lauriate has traveled widely and has lived in Europe. His involvements are primarily of a creative nature focused on Music, Graphic and Literary Arts in the communications fields of Advertising and phases of the Entertainment business through television and film production.

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Lila’s note:  Many thanks to Lauriate Roly for this very personal view of a child growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome.  Tourette’s sufferers, like many other patients, are concerned about the possible impact of the upcoming 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  The Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc., has opposed the board of trustees’ proposal to classify Tourette’s as an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; they view Tourette’s as a neurological movement disorder, rather than a purely psychiatric condition.  It remains to be seen whether the board of trustees has adopted the recommendations of the Tourette Syndrome Association.

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