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Reflexes Gone Awry

Azriela Jaffe

People who suffer from Tourette’s disorder never know when the next tic will hit them. Will they feel compelled to blink uncontrollably during an important meeting? Will they have an irrepressible urge to shout in the middle of shul? A closer look at tic disorders and what sufferers can do to control them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

child“Everyone at school thought I was a troublemaker,” recalls Ephraim Sherr about his junior year of high school. “During class, I’d jerk my shoulders and make other kinds of movements. When I was especially bored, I’d let out a grunt or some other type of verbal sound. People thought I was doing it for attention. I wasn’t even sure why I was doing it, or what was happening to me.”

When the outbursts became more frequent, Ephraim missed a day of school to get tested for Tourette’s. “I was explicitly told it was not Tourette’s. For several years, I lived on thinking that what I had was undiagnosed and, ergo, untreatable,” says Ephraim, who lives inHighland Park,New Jersey.

Then, this past summer, his tics grew worse. When he sought a second opinion from a different neurologist, he was given the diagnosis: Tourette’s disorder (TD). “I took the whole thing in stride until this past Rosh HaShanah,” says Ephraim. “I was in shul, and in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, while the entire place was quiet, I let out a series of yells. People were shushing me. I tried to stop it. But have you ever tried to hold in a sneeze? It was impossible and I was really embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed that I have Tourette’s. It’s the people who don’t know and think I’m being immature and acting out to get attention — that’s what bothers me more.”

After the High Holiday outburst, Ephraim bravely asked his rav to share with the entire congregation that he has Tourette’s. He wanted the congregants to understand that when he sometimes makes inappropriate noises or gestures during Shabbos morning services, it’s the very last thing he wants to do.


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