According to his mom, there were days when Ethan Ginter would come home from school without a civil word in his mouth.
He would head straight into the basement and bang on his drum kit for half an hour before he could get on with his day.
Eventually, thanks to a suggestion from a psychologist, Ethan, who is now 12, was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome — a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocal outbursts.
"There aren’t that many people that know about it, yet around one in 100 people are now diagnosed with it," said Ethan’s mom, Patti.
Ethan also suffers from ADHD, which is treated with medication. She advises parents to look for early warning signs of Tourette syndrome.
"We knew something was not quite right, but we couldn’t explain it," she said. "Ethan lacked concentration and he was the busiest kid ever. He would snort involuntarily and we spent a long time telling him to get a Kleenex and blow his nose," Patti laughed.
Once Ethan was diagnosed, Patti joined a support group before the pair started visiting the Tourette Syndrome Service clinic, which is part of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program at St. Boniface General Hospital. Patti says it’s been a lifesaver.
Wanda Grift, a nurse and Transcona resident, says that while there are mild to severe forms of the condition, public perception is changing.
"There used to be a stigma about the condition and people would poke fun," Grift said. "But this shouldn’t stop kids being what they want to be."
I knew little about the condition, first-hand, and wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited the pair at their Riverview home.
My visit followed the recent Trek for Tourette in Assiniboine Park. The annual event is organized by the Winnipeg Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada to raise awareness.
I wasn’t aware of how Ethan would behave when I met him. Would I be on the bitter end of a barrage of expletives?
Hardly. Apart from the occasional mouth and leg twitch, I didn’t notice anything.
As it happens, Ethan is an engaging, articulate and cool young dude, but that probably has more to do with character and good parenting than anything else.
While noting that both his classmates and the staff at College Churchill have been extremely supportive, Ethan’s attitude became inspiring and uplifting.
"At first, things were confusing, but I didn’t think about it that much because life goes on," he said." "I was young and now I think it is what it is. Half the time I didn’t know the things I was doing, anyway."
Patti said it’s important for parents to look for early warning signs and keep things in proportion.
"My message is that these kids are so much more than what they seem. They are musicians and writers and Tourette syndrome just happens to be a small part of who they are," she said.
"The tics — they’re not doing it on purpose or for attention. It’s not scary and it’s not contagious. We’re just glad to give people the chance to find out more about it."
As for the budding drummer, that kid really can play. And he’s self-taught. A life of talent and fearlessness. It is what it is, I guess.
For more information, visit www.tourette.ca.
Community journalist — The Lance
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7111