The problem that brought 7th-grader Ethan Herald to pediatric psychologist Katrina Lindsay at Akron Children’s Hospital was a vocal stutter he later named his “echo tic.”
Ethan is outgoing and had no trouble with church readings or speaking in front of his class at Northwest Middle School in Canal Fulton. But when he was nervous or excited, the tic came out. He would trip over words, start over and repeat himself several times.
“I would try to get certain words out. They wouldn’t come out until a couple words later,” Ethan explained. “Every time I started a story and stuttered, I really hated it.”
Dr. Lindsay developed a program at Akron Children’s Hospital for kids and teens with tics and Tourette syndrome.
Tics are a neurological disorder that causes people to make sudden, involuntary movements and sounds. They usually show up in childhood – around age 6 on average. Tourette syndrome is a type of tic disorder involving multiple tics. (watch video)
Ethan had initially been diagnosed with a tic disorder, but his condition was later classified as Tourette.
Dr. Lindsay runs an 8-week program called Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics in the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center. The first step in their sessions was to understand what triggers the vocal tic, and teaching Ethan to recognize it to the point where he could catch himself before it came out.
They discovered the key for Ethan was belly breathing when he felt the tic coming on.
Dr. Lindsay worked with Ethan on breathing exercises, and Ethan found that drawing in air at the right time helped preempt the tic. Dr. Lindsay, who is also a nationally certified school psychologist, worked closely with Ethan’s school district to ensure he has the support he needs.
School was especially stressful for Ethan because his condition affected his learning, including his writing.
“He told me, “I get stuck on my writing, too,’” Dr. Lindsay said. “He feels like he has a writing stutter on top of his vocal stutter.”
Ethan made tremendous progress over the weeks, and he became the first “graduate” of the behavioral intervention program. Dr. Lindsay handed him a diploma and played a recording of Pomp and Circumstance.
Since the program started in September, Dr. Lindsay has received several referrals a week. The intervention requires not only coordination with schools, but also with other medical providers. Most children and teens with Tourette syndrome also have other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.
Ethan developed a good rapport with Dr. Lindsay. He likes to talk to her about science and the brain. “He has an easy time talking to her. His ego has really been helped,” said Ethan’s mother, Linda.
“He said, ‘you know what, I need a week to think about it,’” Dr. Lindsay said. “Then a week later I listened to a voicemail: ‘Dr. Lindsay, I’m going to do it.’”
Ethan wrote 13 essays about school, his hometown, his family and other topics for the application.
“I think I am an excellent public speaker because I am a go-getter and a strong and independent thinker,” he wrote.
He made a convincing case. On Dec. 16, Dr. Lindsay saw her phone light up with an incoming call from the Tourette Association of America. She knew instantly Ethan had been chosen to represent Ohio as a youth ambassador.
“It was really a great moment,” she said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Ethan.”
In March, Ethan will attend a 2-day training in Arlington, Virginia, and then it’s on to Capitol Hill to talk to elected officials about Tourette syndrome and tic disorders.