Speaker with Tourette schools GV on tolerance

Courtesy Photo / whatmakesyoutic.com
Marc Elliot

Courtesy Photo / whatmakesyoutic.com Marc Elliot

Susie Skowronek

After Marc Elliot said the N-word behind a black woman at an Indianapolis bus station, Greyhound came out with an official statement that said he could not ride the bus.

Elliot, originally from St. Louis, now lives in Boston and tours across the country to tell people about his unique life experiences: his daily struggles with Tourette Syndrome.

He spoke to people gathered Wednesday evening in the Grand River Room of Kirkhof Center.

“I’m trying to teach people how to become tolerant individuals,” Elliot said. “Now I’m not going to do that by standing up here and talking to you all about, ‘What is the definition of tolerance?’”

Elliot said by sharing his story, others might understand they do not know everything about other individuals.

Elliot has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological, genetick disorder thought to be caused by altered activity of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Altered levels of the chemical cause excess energy in the body, and the only release is the body tick.

More than 200,000 people in the U.S. have Tourette Syndrome, a condition defined by multiple motor ticks, physical ticks and at least on vocal tick.

Tourette Syndrome creates itches over which the individual has no control. But the individual has control over the decision to scratch, which people see as the tick.

“Tourette Syndrome is like having 10 or 15 or 20 itches all in one spot, so I can stand here and choose not to scratch it,” Elliot said. “But what happens if you don’t scratch that itch? It just builds and builds and builds until finally you have to scratch it. … But what’s crazy about Tourette’s is that the itch comes right back, and it’s happening all throughout the day.”

Some members of the audience had slips of paper with words or sounds to shout during the presentation to simulate the uncontrollable vocal ticks of Tourette Syndrome.

“I absolutely encourage everyone to laugh with it because humor is a very important part of my life,” Elliot said. “But do remember that although you might have to do this for one moment during my presentation, this is stuff that I have been doing for the past 20 years of my life.”

Sophomore Erika Noth yelled “oh” 14 minutes into Elliot’s talk.

“It was embarrassing,” she said. “It made me feel like I had Tourette’s.”

Elliot was diagnosed with mild Tourette’s at age 9, but the condition got worse as he got older. In middle school, Elliot suffered from head convulsions and began to curse.

Elliot said although stereotypically people with Tourette’s say bad words, less than 10 percent actually do.

Unfortunately, the less than 10 percent includes Elliot, who says curse words, body parts, racial slurs and other offensive language – and a few came out during the presentation.

“Not only do I say things I cannot control, these are things that I do not feel on the inside,” he said.

Elliot said he does not tell stories about his life to generate pity. The people in his story let ignorance dictate action, and the summation of the stories led him to his key point, he said.

“Recognize that you make assumptions about people that are different than you,” he said.

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