Alex handles bothersome tics with help from family, teacher, counselor
News-Democrat Bellevile, IL.

Thirteen-year-old Alex Wells of Collinsville likes to play video games, read Harry Potter books and try to keep his room clean.

"That's Pikachu," Alex said, pointing to a wallpaper border of Pokemon characters as he shrugged his shoulders and moved his head to the side.

It's a side effect of Tourette's Syndrome, a disorder that causes Alex to tic.

"Sometimes, I twirl my finger," Alex said, demonstrating with his right index finger.

That tic doesn't bother him much anymore. It's mainly the head jerking and shoulder shrugging.

When Alex, a tall boy with thick, dark hair, plays video games, he has fewer tics.

"This makes some of the characters a rainbow color," said Alex as he personalized a video game setting.

He'd like to design computer games when he's older.

"It's hard to tell when I'm going to make a sound," said Alex.

Sometimes he makes grunting noises during class at White Oak Academy where he just completed seventh grade.

"It usually happens when he's working independently," said Judith Fahrner, principal at White Oak, a school for students with unique learning needs located off Illinois 157 in East St. Louis. "Usually, he can reach in and calm (the tics) down for a while."

When Alex goes out to eat with his family and other places, he knows other watch when he has tics.

"If someone starts to make fun of me, it makes me mad, but I keep it to myself," said Alex.

Farhner has watched Alex learn to control his emotions, especially anger.

"He used to get so frustrated. Now, I don't see that so much any more."

At age 6, Alex started showing classic signs of Tourette's: face grimacing and hand movements. His parents, Tom, 41, and Mary, 35, took him to a neurologist.

Mary monitored and recorded Alex's behavior for the next six months for the doctor, who diagnosed Alex with Tourette's. Alex also has obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Tourette's is a genetic disorder, inherited from parents. His younger brother Ben, 7, shows no signs of Tourette's.

Mary said visiting counselors and taking medication helps Alex control his emotions.

"It's about finding the right combination of medicine," she said.

Some days he has more tics than others, and the Wellses aren't sure if they've plateaued. They take it day by day.

When Alex was younger, change to his daily routine frustrated him and usually led to angry outbursts.

"If he couldn't find a pair of shoes, it would make him angry," said his mom. "Now, he still gets frustrated, but it doesn't bother him as much. He knows he has to be at school by 9."

The Wellses tried parochial school but found White Oak was a better fit for Alex.

"He's an extremely bright young man," said Fahrner. "Very well read. His biggest challenge is mastering the art of writing a sentence on paper."

Fine motor skill problems are a common side effect of Tourette's. Alex prefers typing papers on a computer.

The last week of school, he was practicing a short musical he and six classmates -- the total student body -- would perform for parents.

"Everybody's goin' surfin, surfin' U.S.A," sang Alex as he stood on the chair of his desk and pretended to surf.

Counselor Charles Clyde at I Think I Can Learning Center in Fairview Heights has helped Alex become more confident despite his tics.

"He's learning that just because kids say things that are hurtful, it doesn't mean they are true," said Clyde, who has noticed Alex's tics get worse when he's stressed.

Clyde taught Alex deep breathing exercises to help Alex learn to relax.

"He's realizing that he's a normal kid even though he has Tourette's," said Clyde.

Alex plans to mainstream to public or parochial school this fall. Mary and Tom are behind him all the way.

"We want him to succeed in everything he wants to do. Whether he's living at home or on his own in an apartment some day, we're there for him."

Mary's tips for parents of children with Tourette's:Remain calm. "Remove your child from the public setting to the car or your home. Keep them safe while they're having an outburst. If they're old enough, talk to them about what's going on."

Find a support group of doctors, family and friends.