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Reality show helps out.

While swearing fits, hitting yourself, or repeatedly twitching might normally trigger a negative reaction in onlookers, that could be about to change thanks to a contestant in TV's reality show, Big Brother.

Such behaviour involves a few of the possible distressing symptoms of Tourette Syndrome ( and with millions watching the Channel 4 show, the appearance of sufferer Pete Stephenson should help educate people about this genetic condition.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) usually starts in childhood. It affects up to one in every 100 children to a varying degree, and is more likely to affect boys. Pete was diagnosed at the age of 14.

It usually persists throughout life, causing tremendous suffering ( and in severe cases it can ruin lives.

Roy Hillard, president of the Tourette Syndrome (UK) Association, believes there may be at least 200,000 sufferers in the UK. His son is one of them.

Mr Hillard said: "Although Pete is not typical ( he is apparently not taking any medication, isn't trying to control his tics and seems a severe case ( we do think there will be a positive outcome to this.

"It's helped TS hit the headlines, and we hope it will make people aware of a condition which is treatable and realise that, with understanding and support, many sufferers can lead perfectly normal lives."

The degree of severity varies between individuals and at different points during their lives.

Although the cause is not known, it is thought it could be a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

TS often includes obsessive compulsive behaviour and attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity.

Mr Hillard adds: "It's a very difficult condition for sufferers to live with because of the social embarrassment they feel and the social stigma it causes.

"Children will often try to hide their twitches or tics from their friends while at school, which causes them stress.

"This can make the condition more severe when they get home."

Although many sufferers cope with mild symptoms and do not need medication, others at the severe end of the spectrum are not so lucky.

"Adults with severe symptoms may struggle to find jobs and partners, even though many sufferers are often characterised as highly intelligent, gifted people."

He hopes that increased awareness will result in earlier diagnosis and also boost research improving the current treatments and therapies.

Public awareness could also be crucial to making life better for sufferers.

"Most sufferers really appreciate it if, when they are showing symptoms and people meet them, that they avoid staring at them, continue talking to them normally and try not to express surprise.

"People with TS are perfectly normal and want to be treated as such, and this approach will make them feel safer and less stressed and embarrassed, which can lessen the symptoms."

Actress Neve Campbell, whose brother is a sufferer, is currently making a film, A Private War, focusing on Tourette Syndrome.

The star of the Scream films says: "I'm truly excited about being able to make a movie that will depict Tourette Syndrome in a realistic and compelling way and really open people's eyes about what TS is and what it isn't."

Irish comedian Noel Faulkner is also a Tourette sufferer. The owner of London's Comedy CafA club and stand-up performer has spoken about his experiences as part of his act.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2006
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