Raising Healthy Kids: NJ girl helps classmates understand Tourette syndrome

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Tourette Syndrome is an often misunderstood disorder. Now a South Jersey girl is helping others understand and accept it. (WPVI)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had it and so do comedians Dan Akroyd and Howie Mandel. It is Tourette syndrome, an often misunderstood disorder. Now a South Jersey girl is helping others understand and accept it.

For Anna Heicklen, the first signs of Tourette's came when she was about 6 years old.

"It sounds like I'm clearing my throat, and sometimes I blink," Anna said.

"We thought it was just an annoying habit," Anna's mother Jen said.

Those sounds and movements were actually tics.

Psychologist Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard of Children's Hospital says tics are hard-wired into the brain and can't be turned on or off at will.

"Your body is telling you you have to do it," Dahlsgaard said.

"It's like a sneeze, you can't stop it," Anna said.

Tics can also come and go.

"A tic will come back, but it will be a different tic this time, so where it was blinking before it might be the opening eye tic," Dahlsgaard said.

Dr. Dahlsgaard recommends that parents and others ignore the tics.

Anna and her family tried to do that.

"It didn't bother her till other kids pointed it out, and that was tough," Jen said.

"They kept asking me to stop," Anna said.

So she borrowed an idea from a boy who wrote a letter to his classmates explaining his Tourette's.

"What happens when you ask someone to stop a tic? It only makes them think about it more," Anna read.

After reading it to all three 5th grade classes in her school:

"She turned to me and said, 'oh, I feel so much better,'" Jen said.

Anna's gotten kudos for her courage, such as a note from a classmate saying, 'I'm so proud of you for telling the class. You go girl!'

Dr. Dahlsgaard says she's a role model, not just for others with Tourette's, but for kids everywhere dealing with a situation that makes them anxious.

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healthchildren's healthhealthcheckhealthraising healthy kids
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