How American Idol’s James Durbin Manages Life With Tourette’s and Asperger’s

How American Idol’s James Durbin Manages Life With Tourette’s and Asperger’s
Via People
When James Durbin was on the 2011 season of American Idol, he stood out for two reasons: his high energy rock performances and the fact that he was living with Tourette Syndrome and Asperger Syndrome.

And while his tics were apparent on camera, but there was one surefire cure for them – singing.

Cut to five years later, and Durbin is still singing and touring (he’s just released a new album, Riot on Sunset) and living in Santa Cruz, California, with his wife Heidi Lowe, son Hunter, 7, and daughter Kinzee Cruz, 19 months. And while he still needs to manage his condition, he says he couldn’t be happier.

“Life is great,” Durbin tells PEOPLE exclusively. “The difference between my tics on Idol and now is like night and day. But it’s something that is heightened by stress, and being on the show was stressful – but now I know how to manage myself in those types of situations.”

Still, he says he can have bad days – “sometimes things just come out wrong” – and the tics haven’t completely gone away.

“My wife definitely notices,” he says. “She’s the one who has to deal with it, and they’re annoying. But when I’m out and about I can mostly keep the condition under wraps.”

But despite being “born different,” Durbin says he’s actually now grateful for the condition because it gives him a chance to help others who might also have disabilities, and his aim is to be a role model to them.

For more on James Durbin, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere now.

How American Idol’s James Durbin Manages Life With Tourette’s and Asperger’s| Autism, American Idol, James Durbin
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“I had no one to look up to like this growing up,” he says. “When I was a kid, I knew I was different. I liked things no one else liked, and I was always very angry about having this. I hated it and wished it would go away. But now I want to be living proof that different is awesome.”

The one hope Durbin has for other people living with similar conditions? That they’ll understand that being unique isn’t a bad thing.

“If we were all meant to be the same, we’d all be the same,” he says.

“And it helps to surround yourself with positivity. My family is super positive, and we just love each other. It’s a supportive environment,” he adds. “I think it’s good to show people that even if you have developmental disabilities, there’s hope: You keep being you, and somebody will find you and love you for who you are.”