In January of 1692, in colonial Massachusetts, several young girls began exhibiting violent contortions and uncontrollable outbursts of screaming. A local doctor diagnosed “bewitchment.” It was not long before a hysterical community blamed several poor and slave women of bewitching the young girls. Fueled by the residents’ suspicions of and resentment toward their neighbors, as well as their fear of outsiders, the Salem witch trials commenced resulting in hundreds of innocent people being unceremoniously tried for practicing “the Devil’s magic” and at least twenty innocent people put to death. It is not hyperbole to say that my experiences in court with my own resentful neighbors felt like a witch hunt of Salem proportions.
My young adult son has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. The disorder is named for Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the pioneering French neurologist who, in 1885, first described the condition in an 86-year-old French noblewoman. Over one hundred years later, one would think that the condition is well known and understood. Sadly, it is not. There are those, even in my affluent and educated community, who apparently believe that children with Tourette are likely the result of abuse or bad parenting. They can not fathom that the noises and behaviors exhibited by my son are involuntary. Neither do they appreciate how their own inhospitable and mean spirited actions contribute to the worsening of his tics and general depression, and ultimately, contribute to their own suffering.
I am the first to admit that my son’s ticcing can be loud and disturbing. He sometimes
yells things that are hard to hear and can sound scary to the casual observer. The neighbors call the police with regularity. No matter how many times we have tried to explain to them that calling the police only makes the situation worse and has no beneficial affect, they continue to complain. In the past, my son has experienced abuse at the hands of police, at gunpoint, no less, simply because he was ticcing at an airport and his behavior was misinterpreted as suspicious and dangerous. With each police encounter initiated by our neighbors, my son slips further and further into despair and post traumatic stress. His anger and rage, common in people with Tourette, understandably magnified.
It was bad enough when the neighbors held secret meetings to discuss what to do about our family, designed to rid the neighborhood of the unwanted element that disturbed their privileged peace. But then they took it to another level by actually having my son served, by a sheriff, with a restraining order. The oxymoronic implication would be almost comical if not so tragic. Having a judge order someone with Tourette Syndrome to restrain themselves under penalty of arrest makes no sense. Then again, perhaps it makes perfect sense for those whose goal is to criminalize the disability itself.
It is understandable that the neighbors just want the disturbance to stop. Their demonizing my son and teaching their children to fear him, however, only exacerbates the situation, and in the end, makes his ticcing worse which, of course, is the opposite of what they want. We showed up in court on the day of the restraining order hearing filled with dread and