HUNTERSVILLE – Millie Driggers and her adopted daughter, Caroline, are on a journey together to fight against Tourette Syndrome.
Millie remains hopeful about her 10-year-old daughter’s illness when she reads about Tim Howard, goalie for the U.S. World Cup who suffers from TS and broke records in the number of saves in a game.
The Driggers family moved to the area in May 2005. Caroline was diagnosed with TS at age 7 or 8.
“It was a long process figuring out what it was,” Millie said. “We knew from a fairly young age there were some features that were present.”
TS is a neurological condition that causes a person to make sudden or repeated movements or sounds, also known as tics, they cannot control. Symptoms and tics vary, ranging from mild to severe. People with TS also endure other conditions, such as ADHD, OCD and ADD.
When Caroline was younger, she displayed several sensory processing issues and had no desire to be cuddled in closely. She started displaying repetitive behaviors, categorizing items and having anxiety trouble moving from one setting to another.
“We would take her to Birkdale Village, parades and it would just overwhelm her,” Millie said. “I took her to a meeting at my work. The whole meeting she kept clearing her throat. That was the first tic I noticed.”
Prior to Caroline’s diagnosis, her parents were not sure how to best help her. They tried several therapies and visits to a psychologist to understand her social issues. Now, they have found the best ways to treat Caroline as far as finding the right doctors and appropriate educational setting.
Caroline mainly struggles with ADD, OCD and issues coping with social situations among her peers. She faces bullying and teasing, but her vocalizations are less significant than they were in the past.
Dr. Danielle Milburn, a child psychologist in the Lake Norman area, works with Caroline monthly. She plays games with Caroline and gives her strategies on how to overpower an OCD habit with a different, less extreme OCD habit.
Millie said a lot of people do not understand the wide scope of TS even in the medical world.
“Not every child with a tic has TS. Everybody has there own symptoms,” Millie said. “Finding a doctor that was familiar with TS was just for us life-changing.”
Living with Caroline is not always easy for a family of five, considering her younger siblings are just now starting to understand her condition. Millie said a lot of her routines, such as taking a shower a certain way, make the family late everywhere they go.
“A lot of her obsessions can be limiting to the rest of the family. Her siblings have had to cope with that,” Millie said. “Her sister and friends will help her out in social environments. They have to learn compassion and (be) flexible with what her needs are.”
A rising fifth-grader, Caroline, will attend her second year at Corvian Community School in Charlotte. She spent her previous years at Huntersville Elementary.
Millie believed the teachers at Huntersville Elementary didn’t handle Caroline’s vocalizations and isolationism appropriately and punished her for being disrespectful, something she cannot always control.
“(At Corvian), you focus on the whole child not just the academics,” Millie said.
Millie said Corvian considers what prompts behavior. She said teachers stay in communication with parents, accept diverse students and provide a safe place for education.
Although Caroline succeeds academically, Millie worries about Caroline’s future being out in the world with TS and the struggles that come with it.
“Tourette Syndrome tends to have other features of behavior and social issues and I would teach compassion among your children to assume the best in people,” Millie said. “I have always tried to teach my other two to look for the lonely kid in the classroom. It’s all about embracing people of all different types.”
For Caroline, being included or simply being asked to join a group was important. Her mother hopes she will navigate through life one step at a time, especially as she grows up and learns more about TS.
Millie plans to run in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 2 and raise $3,000 to put toward TS research and education for future treatments. She is excited to see the city and run for a charity.
“I want (Caroline) to see I am with her on this. I’m fighting this with her,” Millie said. “It’s such a huge symbol for determination and working hard. I hope she sees that.”
Want to help? Donate to Millie Driggers cause at www.crowdrise.com/TeamTSA2014/fundraiser/milliedriggers.