— He stands in the batter’s box, his head on a swivel,
jerking in every direction. He looks at the umpire longer than
the pitcher, holds the bat in one hand and punches himself in
the ribs with the other.
fighting the full-blown episode of his Tourette Syndrome,
Kellen Webster sees the pitch he wants and plows it up the
middle for a single.
father doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so he does
was doing what he loved and, selfishly, I was inspired,"
a tearful Todd Webster said of the experience in 2012, the
summer before Kellen’s junior year at Bothell High School.
"I tell people all the time that it was the worst thing I’ve
ever seen, but at the same time the best thing I’ve ever
seen him do. … It was very uplifting."
Thommasen’s tics are much more subtle, and many who watch
him tend goal for the Kennedy Catholic soccer team have no
clue that he, too, has Tourette’s. His is a milder form, yet
like Webster he has overcome obstacles to excel athletically
they epitomize the motto splashed across the Tourette Syndrome
Association website: "I have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s
Doesn’t Have Me."
inspire family and friends, most awed by their
accomplishments. They refuse to let Tourette’s stand in
their way and hope their stories will motivate others to
insistent and irritating, you can’t suppress the urge to
scratch it. Now imagine that itch inside your head.
how Thommasen describes his Tourette’s.
can’t scratch it by hand," he said.
Thommasen twitches his head for relief — sometimes even on
the soccer field — and it feels like a good
fingernails-down-your-back scratch, at least for the moment.
Webster’s eyes grow wide at hearing Thommasen’s depiction.
exactly what it feels like, having that itch and the only way
you can try to make it go away is to move it," he said.
18-year-olds also suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), often
sidekicks of Tourette’s.
Tourette’s has improved drastically over the past year,
through medications and a new behavioral treatment, although a
back injury prevented him from playing basketball and baseball
as a senior at Bothell High this year. Head movements are rare
and his only tic seems to be elongated eye blinks.
Tourette’s was diagnosed at age 5, when he began making loud
was about the same age when he displayed a verbal tic — a
frequent clearing of his throat — and a preschool teacher
once told his parents he was too disruptive to be in class.
But it was just last spring that Mark and Denise Thommasen
sought an official diagnosis for what they had already
surmised and something Leyton controls on his own.
Tourette’s varies in severity, so do the way parents deal
with it, according to Dr. Geoffrey Wiegand, a clinical
psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Seattle who
specializes in Tourette’s and OCD.
wants their child to have anything wrong," he said,
noting some parents might not notice subtle tics. "A lot
of people will say, ‘They’ll grow out of it,’ and a lot
of times that’s the kind of advice pediatricians are giving
as 30 percent actually do grow out of it, according to Wiegand.
unfortunate thing is we don’t know which 30 percent that’s
going to be," he said.
Thommasen’s OMG moment came while watching Oprah when Leyton
was in seventh grade.
gone through a myriad maladies — from hearing loss (he once
wore hearing aids) to peanut allergies to being hot all the
time. It always seemed like one little thing after another.
Denise never considered Tourette’s, until she watched an
Oprah show featuring a boy who displayed many of Leyton’s
watched that show, and it just hit me, oh my God, he has
Tourette’s," she said.
wasn’t buying it, although he now admits he was in denial.
the back of my mind, everything added up," he said.
thrived in school and sports, especially soccer, and for the
most part controlled his tics — although his neck and hand
movements were particularly bad as he reached puberty, when
Tourette’s tends to peak.
would have thought he was a third-base coach with all the tics
he was doing," Mark said.
of them, including Leyton, thought he needed any outside help.
Only when he struggled a bit in a Spanish class last year did
they decide to seek an official diagnosis. Students with
disorders like Tourette’s often receive special
considerations for taking tests, like additional time.
afforded that opportunity, Leyton turned it down.
decided he didn’t want to be treated any different,"
Mark said. "He wanted to be like the rest of the
a B-plus student who will attend and play soccer for Pacific
University in Oregon, shrugs off his disorders and is
genuinely more annoyed by his mother’s overprotective nature
(she is a self-proclaimed mama bear) than the fact he has
honestly don’t care," he said. "I’m one of those
people who likes to block things out."
while, the Websters thought their son’s Tourette’s might
be mild, too.
Kellen’s verbal tics quieted down until he reached junior
high, and then some mild medication helped.
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excelled in basketball and especially baseball, where the
family roots run deep. His uncle, Cody Webster, was the star
pitcher of the Kirkland Little League team that won the World
Series in 1982, and his father was an all-state shortstop at
Juanita High in 1984.
was a three-year high school when Kellen was in ninth grade,
but freshmen were allowed to turn out for baseball and he made
the junior varsity as a shortstop. He got called up as a
pinch-runner for the playoffs and scored the deciding run when
the Cougars upset top-ranked Jackson for their first state
Tourette’s flared up occasionally, but he sailed through his
sophomore year in high school as a starter in basketball and
baseball. A 6-foot-3 guard, Webster flew onto the college
recruiting radar by hitting eight three-pointers at the 4A
state tournament, one shy of the record.
wheels fell off that summer as his Tourette’s raged. His
head nearly spun like a top and he punched himself black and
blue. He clapped and clucked and barked and during one
baseball game his mouth stuck open.
parents had a neurologist on speed dial and Kellen tried
multiple medications. He began working with Dr. Wiegand and
became one of the first in the state to learn Comprehensive
Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT), which ultimately
was able to play basketball — sometimes sinking
three-pointers with his head turned away from the hoop —
until he suffered three concussions, his balance a casualty of
his meds. He returned for baseball, but quit batting partway
through the season for safety reasons — he might get beaned
not watching the ball.
Cougars reached the regional tournament, when Kellen
selflessly told his coaches the team had a better chance with
someone else at shortstop as his condition flared again. They
lost to Kentwood by a run.
Thommasen’s Tourette’s hasn’t affected his athletic
Webster wishes he could say the same thing.
have never made Thommasen miss a soccer ball and he is among
the top goalkeepers in the state. And he has a role model in
Tim Howard, goalkeeper for the U.S. National Soccer Team who
coaches say he could play at least Division II baseball and/or
basketball, when his condition is under control.
Wiegand said he believes sports can be therapeutic for
Tourette’s patients, especially those with depression, like
activity and social activity are really the two anecdotes to
depression," he said. "And for those not doing well
in school, it gives them another area of their life where they
can excel and base their self-esteem."
Webster admits one reason he didn’t push returning to the
baseball team this spring, if his back allowed, was the fear
his symptoms would rear again.
don’t want to sound overdramatic, but it was kind of
scarring," he said of the struggles. "I didn’t
really want to risk it."
asks for no one’s pity.
was hard for me to have the game taken away from me like that,
with what I have, but my dad always says it will make me a
better person, because everyone’s going to face adversity,
and I face it a lot, which I think will make me a better
person," he said.
ago, Webster thought he’d give up baseball and basketball to
attend Washington State University, but he recently
reconsidered and might pursue both at Bellevue College.
missed it," he said.
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tends to have her younger brother’s back. Such is the case
with Bailey Webster (23) and Shey Thommasen (21).
their parents, they are always on the lookout for anyone who
might tease or mimic their brother — or even stare.
just doesn’t fly," Bailey said.
he was younger and someone would poke fun at him, I would
always be there to say it’s not OK," she said. "It
just broke my heart, because he’s family. You just want to
knock someone out."
parents felt Leyton would be more protected in private school,
where many students stay together year after year.
he was in a new environment, Denise in particular made sure
those around him knew about his Tourette’s, fearful even the
slightest tics might be mistaken for some kind of drug habit.
Throughout his interview for this story, she expressed
concerns that the added exposure might cause him to be treated
and Kellen are both well-liked at school and say they’ve
never felt picked on or mistreated. Neither is thin-skinned.
considers his nickname, "Twitch," an endearment from
a refreshing reminder that while these two young men indeed
have Tourette’s, Tourette’s definitely does not have them.
STORY CAN END HERE)
Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by
repetitive involuntary movements and vocalizations called
name: The disorder is named for Dr. Georges Gilles de la
Tourette, a French neurologist who in 1885 first described the
condition in an 86-year-old French woman.
than women: Males are affected about three to four times more
often than females.
It is estimated that 200,000 Americans have the most severe
form of TS, and as many as one in 100 exhibit milder symptoms.
teens: Most people with the condition experience their worst
tic symptoms in their early teens.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders