Ac­tor didn’t let Tourette’s stop him

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

Let’s talk about Tourette’s.

It’s not all about swear­ing and shout­ing – in fact, just 10 per cent of peo­ple with the disorder have the vo­cal tic caus­ing them to re­peat in­ap­pro­pri­ate words.

A lack of un­der­stand­ing can make strug­gling with Tourette’s a lonely bat­tle, ac­tor and co­me­dian Paul Bar­rett says.

Tourette’s syn­drome is a pae­di­atric neu­ro­log­i­cal disorder char­ac­terised by in­vol­un­tary move­ments or vo­cal­i­sa­tions called tics. Bar­rett dis­cov­ered he had the disorder when he was 10 years old and was bul­lied through­out school be­cause of his tics.

‘‘Hav­ing Tourette’s can be deeply hu­mil­i­at­ing – be­ing a teenager is bad enough any­way.

‘‘I keep read­ing th­ese posts from moth­ers of chil­dren with it say­ing they’re be­ing mocked at school and my heart breaks be­cause I can only think: ‘I re­mem­ber, I know what it’s like’.’’

The St Heliers man says talk­ing about Tourette’s is the only way to dis­pel the many mis­con­cep­tions.

Bar­rett has never let the disorder hold him back, carv­ing out a suc­cess­ful 34 year ca­reer on stage and in front of the cam­era.

‘‘You have to work harder to con­trol the phys­i­cal twitches.

‘‘I was al­ways ter­ri­fied of be­ing ex­am­ined close up by a cam­era so it’s taken me a long time to get com­fort­able and I’m still not en­tirely,’’ he says.

Bar­rett is a fi­nal­ist in the Artis­tic Achieve­ment cat­e­gory of the 2014 At­ti­tude Awards which cel­e­brates the ac­com­plish­ments of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

The Tourette’s As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand di­rec­tor Robyn Twem­low says Bar­rett’s nom­i­na­tion is great for pub­lic aware­ness.

‘‘It’s fan­tas­tic – we want th­ese sort of pos­i­tive role mod­els.

‘‘It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to see there’s light at the end of the tun­nel and you can be a suc­cess­ful per­son.’’

The as­so­ci­a­tion held a gath­er­ing of chil­dren and adults with Tourette’s called Camp Twitch, in Han­mer Springs last month.

The bian­nual camp was the first of its kind in New Zealand and will al­ter­nate be­tween the North and South is­lands in the fu­ture.

Many peo­ple who at­tended the camp had never met another per­son with Tourette’s, Twem­low says.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple still hide it and think they are the only per­son in New Zealand with it.’’

About 800 chil­dren are es­ti­mated to have Tourette’s in New Zealand.

Twem­low founded the as­so­ci­a­tion last year after her nine-year-old daugh­ter was di­ag­nosed and she dis­cov­ered there were no na­tional support groups.

Peo­ple of­ten as­sume a child just mis­be­hav­ing, she says.

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‘‘There’s no un­der­stand­ing of it what­so­ever and that’s within the health sys­tem, the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the gen­eral pub­lic.’’

Twem­low says the or­gan­i­sa­tion is fo­cussing on build­ing up its com­mu­nity be­fore it starts to ad­dress how to in­tro­duce guide­lines into schools to help chil­dren with Tourette’s.

Photo: JESS LEE

Cen­tre stage: St Heliers ac­tor, di­rec­tor and mu­si­cian Paul Bar­rett has never let Tourette’s syn­drome hold him back.

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