WINDER, Ga. (AP) — Eleven-year-old Blake Desadier thought his mom was lying when she told him there were other kids like him with Tourette’s syndrome.
Then he went to “Camp Twitch and Shout,” a weeklong summer camp for children with Tourette’s, a neurological disorder that makes people have different types of involuntary muscle movements or speech. The camp helps children embrace the disorder. Many of the counselors also have Tourette’s.
“My mom wasn’t lying to me about how many people have Tourette’s,” said Blake, who is from New Orleans. His face twitches and he clears his throat uncontrollably.
Blake is one of about 170 kids who attend the camp each year. It ended Friday.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates 200,000 Americans have the most severe form of Tourette’ syndrome. Symptoms are often worse in the early teens but improve into adulthood. Boys are affected more often than girls.
Audrey Vogel attended camp four years ago when she was 14. Now, she is a counselor in training.
“It was honestly one of the coolest moments in my life and, this sounds weird, but everyone was just ticcing,” Vogel said of her first camp. “Kids were throwing themselves on the floor, they were screaming at the top of their lungs. I have a tapping tic where I have to tap people 8 times on the shoulder. No one even cares.”
Vogel said the camp changed her life. She is now open to telling people about her condition.
Located at a state park in Winder, about 50 miles east of Atlanta, the camp was started six years ago by a handful of parents whose children have Tourette’s. Tricia Kardon is one of the co-founders and camp director.
“Our vision was to have a place where no one would question their disorder, where they could be normal and they could have typical camp experiences. And, hopefully change their life,” she said.
The children’s tics range from mild to severe.
One child spits in someone’s face and apologizes. Others fall unexpectedly, so camp counselors always have an eye on them.
Through sharing experiences, the children learn to better cope with Tourette’s.
“It’s made me look at Tourette’s not so much as a problem, more like a quality,” said 11-year-old Sam Duggar.
For many, the biggest challenge is leaving.
“It’s a lot of on and off crying,” Vogel said. “You stop … and then a friend comes up and hugs you and you start crying all over again.”