Tourette's Syndrome

High Bar: Meet a World-Class Gymnast with Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, and dysgraphia made school tough for Josh, but discovering his special talent for gymnastics changed everything.

Growing Up With Tourette Syndrome

Lisa: Our story is personal, singular, and, perhaps, familiar. We decided to share it now that Josh, 27, is grown and we’ve all moved from survival to reflection.

Josh was the cutest kid, and he was always in trouble. From daycare through high school, the story rarely changed. School was impossible, breaking routines was hard, and getting out the door in the morning presented a daily challenge. But getting Josh to do anything physical was a breeze.

I should have known my son, Josh, had Tourette syndrome (TS). I taught special education and have a Ph.D. My husband and I both grew up with siblings with disabilities. We felt that something was wrong, but we had no experience with TS.

[Self-Test: Tic Disorders in Children]

Josh: Before we figured out that I had TS, dysgraphia, and dyslexia, I did not know what was wrong except that school was impossible. No matter the teacher, the tutor, or the reward, I never got excited about anything other than recess and seeing my friends. My only satisfaction came from physical activity.

By the age of 10, I was a skateboarder, biker, rock climber, baseball player, soccer player, runner, skier, and snowboarder. The sport I stuck with for the long haul was gymnastics. No matter the sport, it came easily; and no matter the school assignment, it was hard. By middle school, I disliked almost everything, including myself. I was a male gymnast who could not read or write and who made odd sounds and had facial tics.

How Sports Built Self Worth

Lisa: Josh was amazing at using his abilities to compensate for his struggles; through sports, he was building his self-esteem and his self-worth to survive school. My husband and I were so proud of him and yet so frustrated. It took time to learn that better routines, less stress, more laughter, and the “right” teacher, tutor, or life coach would change his life and ours.

Josh: Today I am happy and successful. I received the bronze medal in the Junior Olympics on the rings. I got a college degree. I competed four years in a row at the NCAA championships. I took second place in the Eastern Atlantic Conference. I live on my own and work as a manager for the largest indoor rope climbing facility in the United States.

[Read: Olympians, Professional Athletes, and Sports Legends with ADHD]

How did I get here? I trusted that I knew best what I needed. My advice for parents: Let your kid share their feelings and listen to what they need. If routine or physical movement is needed, let them have it. My advice for kids like me: Tell people what you are good at and let them get to know you. Then share your challenges (everyone has challenges). Meet others with the same disability. Celebrate everything positive.

Tourette Syndrome, Dyslexia & Dysgraphia: Next Steps

Lisa Dieker, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Central Florida. Since writing this article, Josh Dieker became a manager at Trek Bikes in Leesburg, Virginia.

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