When Marc Elliot addressed his audience — among them a group of teen volunteers who work with challenged youngsters — at The Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville on March 9, at first they may have thought they were hearing the wrong speaker.
After all, they had come for “Don’t Judge a Book by its Noises, Leading the Charge on Tolerance,” a Friendship Circle program that had been billed as a talk by a person who could tell from firsthand experience what it’s like to live life as a disabled individual. But Elliot appeared to be a “normal,” affable, outgoing young man.
The 25-year-old Elliot soon revealed, however, that he is afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome — a neurological disorder whose sufferers display uncontrollable physical and vocal tics.
Instead of simply describing what living with the disorder is like, he passed cards out to several people among the 100 audience members — who also included local students, parents of challenged youngsters, educators, and other community members — encouraging them to act out characteristic Tourette’s tics at various moments during his talk. Barking like a dog and shouting, “I love you!” at the top of their lungs were among the suggested Tourette’s acts.
“Tourette’s really can be a crazy disorder,” Elliot said. “Basically your free will is inhibited.”
His disorder began when he was much younger, when he began saying, “I Love You!” to random people on the street, and even inanimate objects.
“By nine, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s,” he said.
The disorder worsened as he got older, and he started shouting out racial slurs.
Elliot noted that today 200,000 people in the country are diagnosed with Tourette’s. There is no cure, he said, and the only way to deal with the disorder is with “lots of therapy.” But, he added, 60 to 70 percent of those who are diagnosed grow out of the disease.
Tourette’s isn’t the only challenge Elliot has faced in his life; he was born with a rare disease that left him with virtually no intestines, a situation, he said, that has put him in some “really embarrassing situations.”
“I’ve had difficult challenges in life, but I take it in stride,” he told his audience. Coping with both these issues has led him to have a “unique perspective” on life — the most important thing he learned is “the importance of tolerance.”
Whenever he goes out in public, he said, he hands out cards saying that he has Tourette’s — although this does not completely prevent uncomfortable moments. “People let their lack of understanding dictate their actions,” he said, and he cautioned his listeners not to “make assumptions” about people.
Quoting Plato, he said, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
Ariel Stoner, 16, and Allie Belfer, 17, both of Morganville, said they were thrilled to hear Elliot’s message and intended to learn more about Tourette’s Syndrome. Bar Cudkevich, 17, also of Morganville, said it was “interesting to see how someone became so successful while overcoming the odds.”