Tourette's Syndrome: A Gift From God

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - March, 1996

Chris Jackson was an outstanding Mississippi high school athlete when he developed studying problems and began to have some strange behaviors. School administrators concluded that he was a slow learner and placed him in a special class for the mentally disabled. The teacher, however, said he was basically bright so the administrators decided he must have developed socially undesirable habits. They had him put on medications, but that didn't help much. More medical tests eventually led to the discovery that he was developing Tourette's Syndrome.

Knowing the true cause of his condition was a relief, but the condition can be devastating to an athlete. Tourette's is a neurological disorder characterized by uncontrollable tics and twitches and involuntary moans and vocalizations. Medication controlled the symptoms enough to let him continue playing.

When he graduated from high school, Jackson won a basketball scholarship to Louisiana State University. Through hard work he became an outstanding player. He averaged over 30 points per game as a freshman. He set an NCAA freshman record when he scored 55 points in one game. His Tourette's condition was progressing, but medication helped to keep it under control. After his sophomore year he was drafted by a professional basketball team, the Denver Nuggets, as a third round pick.

The summer after his rookie year at Denver he converted to the Islamic Faith and took the name Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He says his new faith led him to accept his condition with peace and he improved his ability to focus on his game. He now deals with Tourette's so well he no longer takes medication.

Abdul-Rauf is about six feet tall and weighs about 154 pounds. This year, his fourth, he is a starting guard for the Nuggets. He is averaging 20 points and over 7 assists per game. His free-throw percentage is .935, one of the highest in the league. The Nuggets coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, says "the syndrome is not an issue. We don't even deal with it, period. He has never used it as an excuse and we don't make it that way either."

Abdul-Rauf says: "God has given me this to add balance to my life. I don't look at it as a disability. I see more benefits than negatives. I tell people, if I had the opportunity to give Tourette's up, I wouldn't do it because I see so many benefits."

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