Health Zone: Real Lives - 'I Can't Even Take Him to the Shops .. He Keeps Shouting F*** Off' for Its Sufferers It Can Mean a Lifetime of Embarrassing Tics and Compulsive Swearing. Tourette's Syndrome Affects at Least One in 2,000 People in Britain but Its Impact on Their Families Can Be Almost as Devastating

The Mirror (London, England), March 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Health Zone: Real Lives - 'I Can't Even Take Him to the Shops .. He Keeps Shouting F*** Off' for Its Sufferers It Can Mean a Lifetime of Embarrassing Tics and Compulsive Swearing. Tourette's Syndrome Affects at Least One in 2,000 People in Britain but Its Impact on Their Families Can Be Almost as Devastating


Byline: DIANE TAYLOR

THE man in the takeaway stared in horror at the seven-year-old boy waiting for his chips.

The angelic-looking child had just called him a "f***ing prat" and his mother, Linda Sheppard, hadn't raised an eyebrow. Instead, she politely apologised for Zaque's offensive language and ushered him out.

Once again she wished the ground would swallow her up.

Zaque has Tourette's Syndrome, a condition which means he twitches uncontrollably and can't help shouting and swearing.

"When people see Zaque shouting obscenities they presume he is badly behaved," says Linda.

"It's become so difficult taking him out that I try to avoid going anywhere because I can't bear people staring. I can't even take him to the supermarket because he kept screaming 'F*** off'.

"People used to say, 'You've got a right little sod there.' Sometimes I think I should walk around with an information sheet which I could give out to the people who stare, explaining that he isn't a naughty child but has a condition which means he can't control his actions."

A recent BBC documentary, The Boy Can't Help It, highlighted the condition and showed the difficulties and prejudices that sufferers and their families face.

TS affects at least one in 2,000 people in Britain and a recent survey suggests at least one in 100 children may be affected. It involves repetitive twitching movements of various parts of the body - known as tics - as well as involuntary noises like grunting, groaning, yelping or howling.

A SMALL minority of those with TS suffer from coprolalia - involuntary swearing.

In many cases Tourette's appears with other conditions such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and obsessive compulsive disorders. Zaque's is complicated by ADHD and a form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome.

"Zaque was about four when I heard him swear for the first time. I got a shock," says Linda. "I knew young children often pick up swear words, but Zaque was doing it a lot.

"I used to tell him off, but it made no difference. We didn't get a diagnosis of Tourette's Syndrome until Zaque was six and for years I thought his problems must be something I was doing wrong."

Linda says the swearing is a sort of uncontrolled honesty.

"He just says what he thinks. We were walking down the street and there was a fat woman in front of us. He said to me: 'Mum, that woman's really fat.' I told him not to say things like that in public but he just replied: 'But Mum, she is fat!'"

Zaque, now ten, lives with Linda, 40, and stepdad Sean, 33, in Kirton near Ipswich. His sister, Chantelle, 17, moved out of the family home at 15 because she couldn't cope with Zaque.

As we are talking Zaque bounds into the room and lets Linda straighten his shirt. He has just woken up and must take the first of a series of daily doses of medication. He is on an experimental combination of drugs including Ritalin which has subdued his swearing. However Linda knows that the swearing and other aspects of TS can become worse in adolescence.

Zaque is a pleasant, smiley, slightly chubby boy with beautiful hazel eyes. He greets us with a beam.

The tics are strongly in evidence, his tongue flicking in and out. He swings his arms and repeatedly taps two fingers in a "V" shape on either side of his mouth. Now and then he emits a loud screeching noise or grunts and growls.

His hands and arms are constantly on the move. Linda says when he eats he smears food all over his clothes because he can't keep still. "He needs two or three changes of clothes a day."

She explains that a side-effect of the medication is weight gain but without it his swearing and tics would be far worse.

"I wish I was slim," Zaque says sadly to his mum.

The symptoms are often worse if the sufferer is stressed, so Linda does everything she can to make Zaque's life stress-free. …

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Health Zone: Real Lives - 'I Can't Even Take Him to the Shops .. He Keeps Shouting F*** Off' for Its Sufferers It Can Mean a Lifetime of Embarrassing Tics and Compulsive Swearing. Tourette's Syndrome Affects at Least One in 2,000 People in Britain but Its Impact on Their Families Can Be Almost as Devastating
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