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No Time for Tics: Tim Howard and Tourette’s Syndrome

Tim Howard

Tim Howard, goalkeeper for the U.S. Men's National Team, wowed the world with 16 saves in his last match in the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Belgium.

But a little known fact about the record-breaking goalie is he has Tourette syndrome. "Those of us with Tourette's syndrome have involuntary movements and sounds (tics) that can make us stand out as odd or different," says David Shprecher, DO, assistant professor at the University of Utah Department of Neurology, who also lives with the disorder.

Tourette's is commonly stereotyped as a repetitive outburst of curse words and involuntary movement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the neurological disorder affects one out of every 360 children 6-17 years of age. The symptoms range from repetitive movements to unwanted sounds that can't be controlled. This may include repeatedly blinking your eyes, shrugging your shoulders or jerking your head.

The disorder typically starts in childhood. Howard says he first began noticing his tics at age nine. Males are more likely to than females to develop Tourette's. There is no cure, but as Howard has proven, people can live a long and normal life with the syndrome.

Howard says he doesn't try to control his tics, telling a German publication "Not even my doctors can explain it to me. It's probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette's syndrome." Shprecher says for those who do need help with suppression treatment is available. "Comprehensive Behavioral Therapy for Tics (CBIT) is a technique that has helped many people not only control the tics, but reduce their impact on everyday life," he says, adding that in severe cases, or cases of people who also deal with impulse control problems "medication can be very helpful."

Howard says he is proud to dispel rumors about Tourette's syndrome by being in the public eye. In an interview with Neurology Now he said "I'm on television, ticking and twitching. I think that's kind of cool." Shprecher said many others with Tourette's have similar feelings. "I once asked a young man with severe tics whether he would take a cure for Tourette's if I could offer one," he says, "He told me that he would really appreciate being free from people looking at him funny, or taking twice as long to do his homework because he is distracted by tics. Still, he would never want to give up what he had learned from it. He had become more independent, learned to work twice as hard at things, not despite Tourette's—but because of it."