Camp Twitch and Shout

July 27th, 2009

Imagine being a kid with Tourette syndrome; the muscles in your body and your face seem to have minds of their own, you make noises — sometimes alarmingly loud noises — that you do not intend to make. Perhaps worse than the disease you feel alone; people are scared of you because they don’t understand Tourette’s. The adults want to shield their children from you, and most of the other kids think you’re weird and funny and, in the school yard, they gather around you and laugh at you and imitate your tics.

An article at¬†talks about a special summer camp in Georgia for kids with Tourette’s and about the camp director Brad Cohen. Here’s what Brad Cohen remembers from his childhood more than 20 years ago:

I remember eating lunch at school all by myself and the mean kids would parade around me and mock my noises. My teacher made me get up in front of the class and apologize to everybody for the noises I was making.

For Brad Cohen the nightmare, the barking and squealing noises he could not control, began in the fifth grade and made his life hell; to this day, at the age of 35, Cohen still “barks” occasionally. But something happened to Brad while in Middle School — at that point in his life when his symptoms were the worst they had ever been — the school principle approached him and asked him if he would like to educate the other students about his condition.

They gave me a standing ovation, and it was on that day that I realized the power of education. I wanted to be that teacher that I never had. And that was my dream. I wanted to be the teacher that focused on kids’ strengths, not weaknesses.

And he did that and more — thanks mainly to that one middle school principal who understood the power of education.

Today Brad Cohen is an elementary school teacher, the author of a book about Tourette syndrome, and the first director of Camp Twitch and Shout, a week-long summer camp in Georgia for kids from ages 7 to 17 who suffer from Tourette’s.

Camp Twitch and Shout offers normal summer camp activities: swimming, fishing, music, and arts and crafts, but the most important thing about Twitch and Shout is it allows a child who has always felt like an outcast to see that there are many other kids just like him or her and to understand that they are not dysfunctional monsters — they are just kids who have a special challenge.

According to experts, Twitch and Shout is one of only five weeklong camps in the country for children with Tourette syndrome. Atlanta-based child neurologist Howard Schub says such camps help children better cope with their condition. Some campers have never met another kid with Tourette syndrome.

Read the Article: At Camp Twitch and Shout, Tourette kids can be themselves.

And understand more about Tourette syndrome with this Fact Sheet from The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

(This article was also posted at My View from the Center.)

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3 Responses to “Camp Twitch and Shout”

  1. Brian |

    Unfortunately, Tourette kids are not alone in being the target of bullies and so forth. I remember a kid I went to school with that was picked on unmercifully by most of the kids. There was really nothing about him that would make an obvious target. He was tall and gangly, but no more so than several other kids. He was usually at the top of the class at report card time, but that didn’t distinguish him from 15 or 20 other kids. He was quiet, and mostly kept to himself except around his friends. He was a fair athlete, to boot.

    There’s just frequently no predicting what is going to arouse a large group into behaving like savages. Hopefully, the victim learns to deal with it, and the savages grow up and realize what monumental asses they were and teach their kids better. I’m not sure we can ask for much more.

  2. Tom |

    I’ve read a bit on Tourette syndrome and seen a couple of TV reports. It has to be a very difficult disease to live with, given that the symptoms run against the grain of society, and why someone is behaving oddly isn’t apparent. It must be worst of all for kids, considering how badly kids can behave toward each other. This camp seems like a great idea; too bad it lasts only a week.

    Bullying among children is a major problem, and I suppose it always has been. I think the example you use, Brian, is not that unusual. There may be two factors at work: Once the bullying of a kid begins, mob behavior takes over and they all get involved; and the victim may be too willing to take it without striking back.

  3. Harvey |

    Bullying always has been a fact of life and always will be because there always will be people (young and old alike) who are unable or unwilling to deal with their insecurities and self-loathing and, as a way of ‘hiding’ from public scrutiny, they try to draw attention away from themselves by loudly, and in many cases violently, exposing what they see as the flaws in others.

    What this camp is doing is helping build self-esteem in kids who are guaranteed to be targets of bullying and helping them to feel better about themselves. If they can do that, the effects of bullying will leave only physical scars, not mental ones.

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