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World Cup and Tim Howard give inspiration to those on the autism spectrum

Tim Howard blast away goal during world cup match with Brazil
Tim Howard blast away goal during world cup match with Brazil
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

People across the globe have been tuning into The World Cup. The Autism community happens to have one more reason to watch this event that only occurs every 4 years. USA World Cup Goal keeper Tim Howard has Tourettes Syndrome a neurological disorder on the “higher functioning” end of the Autism Spectrum. And finding someone who has reached a level of success either despite a disorder or because of it, gives many hope.

Tourette's Syndrome is stereotyped as a disorder where a person spews expletives out of control, but this is not an accurate face of the disorder. Tourettes sufferers like all people with autism deal with stereotyped behaviors and movements. In Tourettes it is known as Tics. Some Tics are shown vocally, where it can be a repetitive word, phrase, or just a noise that needs to be repeated.

Tics are also muscle movements, they are compulsive and are not conscious decisions the person is making. One of the reasons Tourette's Syndrome is part of the wide spectrum of autistic disorders (ADHD, Dyslexia, Aspergers, PDD) is because there are many shared symptoms and behaviors. Tics are similar in nature to some of the aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder, where a person must go through certain motions. Most common tics are eye blinking, throat clearing, and sniffing in a compulsive manner. Repetitive thoughts are also part of the disorder.

Howard stated about his Tourettes. "It is something that can be at bay but is more active when I am anxious, stressed or nervous." Then he will have the fidgeting, twitching or excessive blinking and throat clearing.

This is similar also to Stims in autism, and sometimes the two can be confused when a child is young. Around half of all Tourettes sufferers also have ADHD or OCD, and the severity is a spectrum from mild requiring little to no intervention to severe requiring much therapy and medication. The "spectrum definition" has changed for insurance purposes in the US recently, but the reality for those who have been living it is still unchanged. (and is the same in the UK and many other countries)

People with Tourette's Syndrome also often have issues with impulsiveness and sensory processing. This combination can also yield learning disabilities, but not an inability. A person with Tourettes can lead a normal and successful life, like so many things, it has to do with adapting to what ails us, and promoting what we do well. Focus, guidance and empathy can go a long way for many children. Science doesn't know yet why people have brain imbalances, the causes are numerous and can be because of many changes in our environments to evolutionary changes.

Howard has served on the charity board Tourettes Syndrome of New Jersey and has been very open about the disorder. He has invited other children who are sufferers to attend his games to be a positive roll model, showing them what can be accomplished and encouraging their efforts to cope. Howard was diagnosed when he was a child in grade school, when his mother noticed he has an obsession with counting and touching things repeatedly.

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