The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely caused a drastic decrease in social interactions, whether it may be in a school setting or in public. Initially, I thought that could be a beneficial break for kids across the world like me with Tourette’s Syndrome. Ever since the official start of the pandemic in March 2020, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of my own tics.
I remember thinking to myself, “How could this happen when I don’t have to worry about others noticing my behavior?” I looked back on my recent experiences at school, remembering my struggles to control my head shaking in math class or my small but distinct noises in history, and I’m surprised at how it’s gotten worse in this pandemic.
Neurological problems like Tourette Syndrome face a sense of social stigma especially with teenagers in a public setting; the feeling of being “caught” can create extreme embarrassment, something I would know. This would make it seem as if staying inside more often would give these individuals more confidence and social acceptance.
However, studies and pediatricians have actually seen an “explosion of tics” since the onset of lockdown. Additionally, social media platforms such as TikTok play a large role in bringing light to disorders like Tourette. However, I have noticed that increasing attention to tics can actually increase symptoms, as it makes individuals think about it more often and the involuntary actions take over. I think it is possible that stress related incidents during this pandemic (e.g. closing down of schools or increasing anxiety about college admissions) have also caused tics in children as well as some adults to become more severe, as it did for me.
Aarav Chandra is a high school junior in San Diego. He has been doing neuroscience research with a professor at UCSD for over two years and studies planaria to understand how the nervous systems work and react to different stimuli. He is passionate about spreading awareness of Tourette’s by sharing his own stories. He co-founded two non-profit organizations to teach under-privileged children in California and India. His non-profit corporation, Learning Spaces, works with local San Diego schools to ensure libraries are enriched with books for students to read. He also teaches children in rural India to read and write. He has seven World Championship titles in taekwondo and is now teaching it to younger children.