I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. But growing up with Tourette Syndrome presented challenges that made me different. Loud noises and funny faces is what the outside world saw, but on the inside I was a motivated and determined child who was ready to show others that just because you’re different or have some sort of disability, you can still be successful.
That is what my foundation is all about.
My dream was to be a teacher, the kind of teacher I never had. Despite countless challenges, I achieved my goal. It took 25 interviews before I was finally hired as a second grade teacher. I went on to be the First Class Teacher of the Year for the state of Georgia.
I’ve met numerous people with Tourette Syndrome who have faced similar challenges. But many of them didn’t have the support I had. I knew I needed to share my story with others which is why I decided to write a book about my experiences entitled: Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. It was my hope to inspire other with Tourette Syndrome to never give up.
My book was named the Education Book of the Year and was featured in People Magazine. I was then honored to be featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The New York Times and CNN. My story continued to gained more momentum and I began to sharing my experiences as a motivational speaker throughout the United States.
Eventually, my story found its way in the hands of Hallmark Hall of Fame, where they filmed my movie, Front of the Class, starring Jimmy Wolk, Patricia Heaton and Treat Williams. Twelve million viewers watched it on CBS. I reached more people than I could have ever imagined! The movie is now on DVD and featured on the Hallmark Movie Channel regularly. Then the movie was remade in India titled, Hicki.
I knew I had to do more. I always enjoyed going to camp, because I was able to be myself and focus on my strengths. I had friends there and I felt free. This is the opposite feeling I had in the classroom where my teachers and classmates usually made me feel like an outcast.
I knew that camp experiences and extracurricular activities could serve as a place for kids with challenges to shine. I wanted there to be a camp for kids with Tourette Syndrome so they could see they were not alone while at the same time challenge themselves to see they could find success.
The success of working with the camps, along with the feedback I was getting from my movie, helped me realize I was not quite finished. I knew that some kids were unable to attend camp due to financial reasons and I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again. I wanted to make sure kids could attend programs like this across the nation. I wanted to make sure that other programs for kids with Tourette Syndrome were also around. I didn’t want money to get in the way. Thus, The Brad Cohen Tourette Foundation was born.
It is my goal to raise enough money to allow any child with Tourette Syndrome the opportunity to attend a camp or other social activity regardless of their financial means. I would also like to fund other programs, conferences, and educational experiences that support my mission to celebrate and enable the dreams of those with Tourette Syndrome.
I may not be able to save the world, but with your help I can lift up those who feel challenged by Tourette Syndrome. My goal is to help make dreams come true for others and challenge people’s perceptions of what people with Tourette Syndrome can do!
Q. WHAT IS TOURETTE SYNDROME?
A. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder of the brain, which causes involuntary movements and vocalizations known as tics.
Q. WHAT IS A TIC?
A. There are two main categories of tics: motor tics and vocal tics. Motor tics are sudden repetitive movements of the muscles of the body that occur repeatedly. Vocal tics are in the muscles that control speech and cause involuntary sounds that may be loud at times. Tics may include eye blinking; neck, arm, or leg jerking; sniffing; throat clearing; barking noises; and in some cases saying bad words (this only happens in about 10 percent of the people with TS). Tics will come and go based on stress, anxiety, excitement, and fatigue.
Q. HOW IS TS DIAGNOSED?
A. The criterion for diagnosis is the presence of at least two motor tics and one vocal tic. No two cases look the same. Tics can increase and decrease over time and new tics can emerge with no warning. Most symptoms begin at about age seven. TS is seen more frequently in boys than girls.
Q. WHAT CAUSES THE SYMPTOMS?
A. The cause has not been established, although current research presents considerable evidence that the disorder stems from the abnormal activity of at least one brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called dopamine. There may be abnormal activity of the receptor for this chemical as well. Undoubtedly, other neurotransmitters, e.g., serotonin, may be involved.
Q. WHAT ASSOCIATED BEHAVIORS ARE THERE IN ADDITION TO TICS?
A. They include obsessions and compulsions and ritualistic behaviors (OCD), attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD or ADHD), learning disabilities, difficulties with impulse control, and sleep disorders.
Q. IS TS INHERITED?
A. Genetic studies indicate that TS is inherited as a dominant gene (or genes) causing different symptoms in different family members.
Q. HOW MANY PEOPLE IN THE USA HAVE TS?
A. Since many people with TS have yet to be diagnosed, there are no absolute figures. The official estimate by the National Institutes of Health is that 100,000 Americans have full-blown TS. It is believed that this number could be as high as 1 million if everyone were diagnosed.
Q. IS THERE ANY TREATMENT FOR TS?
A. There are medications that can be given to help calm down the tics. Those who take medication must be aware of the side effects. The importance of an early diagnosis is crucial in helping children and adults cope with TS.
Q. WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF TS?
A. While there is no cure for TS, the symptoms often become less severe as individuals grow older. TS is not a degenerative condition and is not life-threatening. TS does not impair intelligence. Individuals with TS live normal, healthy lives. People with TS are in every profession and enjoy all kinds of recreational activities.