Explosive Rage; A Possible Isolating Symptom of Tourette
My son was 7 the first time he tried to jump out of the car while I was driving down the highway at top speed. I was horrified, scared, angry and embarrassed as I pulled over on the side of the road — having a meltdown of my own!
It wasn’t the first time he’d had an explosion rage of epic proportions. In fact we’d been dealing with these for a while. He’d run off in stores, throw himself on the ground in parking lots — in a way that was so loud and so extreme that several times we’d been approached by law enforcement.
He’d also locked himself in his room, completely destroying it, opening the door only long enough to throw things out at his siblings. Lock himself in the car in the driveway as we tried, helplessly, to coax him out, knowing the neighbors were watching this display of dysfunction. Sometimes he would hide in the closet or the bathroom or under his bed during these moments.
These weren’t just normal ‘tantrums’. They were turbulent, seething storms he had no control over. Neither did we. Sometimes during these meltdowns he’d even talk about hurting himself. We didn’t know what to do, how to help him or even how to talk about something that we were hopelessly ashamed of. How could anyone understand why a child so young would say terrible things to his family, or do some of the things he did, like destroying something he truly loved in anger?
We felt isolated. We felt alone.
Not long after that moment on the highway my son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental spectrum disorder. Along with the tics he’d had since he was small, he also had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), anxiety, severe Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and learning disabilities — in his case Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia.
Most people expected Tourette Syndrome to have tics — although not like the tics we’d seen him doing. Like most people we knew, we thought that Tourette Syndrome was just swearing. Who knew tics could include odd sniffles and repeating other people’s words…neck shrugs and head shakes and odd leg movements and flinging his fingers like he was Spiderman trying to fling a web!
Even learning about the different types of tics, I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that Tourette Syndrome was more than even those tics.
With the help of physicians who treated him we began to understand some of what caused him to go from the happy child we’d always known to raging and trying to kick, hit or run away. He was young but even at that age he was able to articulate what he found overwhelming; the sounds in the lunchroom, the lights in the classroom, the fact that he needed things to be even and sometimes they weren’t — like the chair he sat in at his school desk, one side was missing a peg and it wobbled just a bit. His hands would hurt when he tried to write and doing math made him sick to his stomach.
It took time but we began to identify the triggers and slowly adapt his environment to his needs. We also had to teach him to persevere and be a vocal self advocate. That’s difficult when your child is only 7 or 8, but it’s such a necessary part of being a child with Tourette Syndrome.
I won’t lie, the road wasn’t without potholes and ruts and there were definitely some roadblocks but in the years since my son has gone from rages and meltdowns to being a happy, well adjusted, mature, successful and thriving high school student who has a wonderful group of friends and the confidence to know that he can go forward and achieve whatever dreams he has.
For us it took getting past the stigmas and shame and asking for help so that we could access the most important tool we have; knowledge.