When There’s More to “Attention Seeking” Than Meets the Eye

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Recently, I attended an event which included a group of local schoolchildren. I hadn’t been there long when I spotted a boy around middle school age chatting with a group of his friends at a nearby table. He was also ticcing quite intensely.

The boy’s tics included familiar ones that feel like old friends by this point; eye blinking, eye rolling, facial grimacing, head shaking and even the “Dab” (a tic that seems to have infected nearly every middle school boy with Tourette I know, including my son!). All of these tics were happening at a rate of about a tic a second.

Leery of overstepping my bounds, I felt it couldn’t hurt to locate the teacher and approach her to have a private word. I explained who I was and that I’d noted that one of the children under her care appeared to have Tourette, telling her that if the parents ever brought it up with her I hoped she’d share the Tourette Association of America as a source of support, something that I’d found parents weren’t universally aware of.

She seemed taken aback so I reassured her I wasn’t seeking any personal information, merely passing on support information should anyone ever need it. Her curiosity piqued, she asked which child, so I described him. Looking past my shoulder at the boy she turned back to me and said, “Oh, no, that boy doesn’t have Tourette Syndrome!”

Confused, I looked back at him myself. There he sat shaking his head, blinking his eyes, dabbing. I replied that it appeared he at least had tics, and again said that I was just letting her know about the source of support should anyone ever need it.

“That child does NOT have Tourettes!” I was shocked at the vehemence of her reply but truly dismayed when she continued, “I’ve had him for four years and he’s done that the entire time! He does it for attention. He does it because he thinks it’s funny!”

And with that she dismissed me and walked away.

I wish I’d had the chance to continue the conversation and explain a little more about Tourette Syndrome; I wish I’d had the opportunity to explain that no one, especially not a small child, would tic that often and that intensely for four years just to get attention. I doubt they’d even be able to keep that up!

While this incident was certainly upsetting for me — especially as I pondered what other comorbids this boy might have and how the behaviors to those might be being addressed — it really brought home to me how much more work needs to be done to raise awareness.

Which is why it’s important that we all continue to keep sharing information with those we meet in person and those we come into contact with online. One person has the power to make a positive change for others, even schoolboys who’s tics are taken for attention seeking behavior.

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