Ten-year-old Oscar was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and functional neurological disorder last year by the Tourette syndrome Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Oscar started having vocal and motor tics, but then began to have episodes where he would drop to the floor- up to 100 times a day at its worst.
His mum Suzanne explains: “We were aware of Tourette syndrome because our daughter has it and thought that it must be Tourette’s. However, these drops weren’t something any of us had come across before. He was referred to a neurologist at GOSH who diagnosed him with Tourette syndrome together with a functional neurological disorder”.
“It was explained to us that the drops were separate to his tics and in fact a manifestation of the stress or anxiety. The Tourette syndrome had had a huge impact on his confidence; he had to take time off school and he often didn’t want to go out anywhere.”
That’s when Oscar met GOSH Senior Psychologist Dr Maria Hadji- Michael, who started Oscar on a 12 week programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) which gave him the opportunity to confront his fears and to gradually learn to resist having his usual response to the anxiety. These tasks were part of a tailored treatment plan specific to Oscar.
Suzanne says: “He started to have real anxiety around lifts so would always use the stairs. He also never wanted to go out in public because he thought people would think he was strange when he made noises or movements. The impact anxiety can have on you is enormous.”
Happy to be on camera
Despite his anxiety, when Suzanne asked Oscar if he’d be happy for Paul O’Grady and a film crew to come and join him as he carried out some of his exposure tasks, he leapt at the chance. Oscar went on to complete a number of exposure tasks including doing a presentation on Tourette syndrome, taking Paul O’Grady to the shops and even facing his fears around lifts.
“When I put it to Oscar, I thought, he doesn’t want to leave the house let alone be filmed for the TV, but he absolutely leapt at the opportunity. I really think having Paul and the crew there really added to the amazing treatment given by Maria and the team. It brought him out of his shell and buoyed him up. He absolutely loved it.
“The Psychological Medicine Team at Great Ormond Street Hospital also ran a group session so Oscar could meet other children with Tourette syndrome and we got to meet their parents. It was really nice to share our experiences and realise we aren’t alone.”
The future for Oscar
Having finished his therapy, Oscar is now much more confident and his anxiety has reduced considerably, so much so that he rarely experiences drops.
Suzanne says: “I think a lot of people think Tourette syndrome is just swearing and actually it’s not at all. I really hope people watch the programme and take that message away with them. Anxiety is a mental health condition and a lot of people aren’t aware of how severely it can impact your life. It’s a lot more than just being worried. Thankfully Maria did some amazing work with Oscar to delve into what was causing him to be anxious so now he has some great coping techniques. I’m incredibly proud of his progress and how brave he has been.”