When Kindness Overcame Ignorance About Tourette Syndrome at the Movie Theater
My son Jacob has Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes him to make involuntary sounds and movements. Fortunately, I don’t believe Jacob has had to deal with many uncomfortable situations as a result of his Tourette’s, but there have been a few.
Once Jacob and I went to see a movie at a local theater. I knew that taking him might be a problem, but I didn’t want anything to prevent him from doing things other kids could do. I was not about to punish Jacob for ticcing, and in my opinion, that’s exactly what it would have been — a punishment.
When we got there, no one was in the theater, and I prayed we would be the only ones. I knew if there were others, the staring could start and hurtful things might be said. Fortunately, with the darkened theater, any stares were unnoticeable, but the remarks were loud and clear.
I am not usually very vocal when people stare because I don’t want to make Jacob uncomfortable. That night was different.
Someone shouted out basically telling us to leave the theater, and I stood up and said a few choice words as I told them Jacob had Tourette’s. Even after that, the comments continued.
My heart raced, and I was ready to pounce in Jacob’s defense once again. Then Jacob reached over to wipe away my tears as he put his arm around me and said, “Don’t cry Mom. It’s OK. You believe that, don’t you?” This kid’s amazing.
As people exited the theater, I noticed some coming our way. I was prepared to be attacked. Instead, a woman along with her husband and son came up to me and hugged me while apologizing for the rudeness of others.
I cried and told them I just wanted people to understand that he had every right to be there, too. Then another infuriated couple expressed their concern that Jacob was subjected to such insensitivity. All the while Jacob stood there with a huge smile on his face, thanking these wonderful strangers who went out of their way to encourage him to be proud of who he is.
These same people followed us to the front and confronted the assistant manager, telling him how rude even his employees were. They were fighting for a complete stranger; they were fighting for my son. The apologetic manager tried to refund our money but I refused, explaining that we only wanted people to understand.
As we turned to leave, another stranger came back inside the theater and walked up to Jacob. She fought back tears as she apologized to Jacob for having been one of the rude people. She said she was ashamed of herself and that she had learned a huge lesson from this experience.
These are the stories you rarely hear, but these are the stories that can change people’s lives. All of those people changed me, and I believe they changed Jacob.
Here’s what I hope for them: I hope that after this experience they went home and shared their story with others, and I hope that knowing Jacob — the kid who thanked them for their kindness, the kid who didn’t get upset, the kid with Tourette’s — changed their lives forever. He sure has changed mine.
A version of this post originally appeared on Savannahnow.com.
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Thinkstock image by Jacob Ammentorp Lund