Matt Mercer doesn’t look or act differently than most 13-year-olds.
But tics associated with his Tourette’s syndrome make him the target for bullies.
“They don’t understand it,” Matt said. “It’s what makes me, me. I understand that they think it’s different. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Matt’s tics – uncontrollable movements often exacerbated by stress – include rapid eye blinking, hand-rolling and knuckle-cracking. He said it’s simply his brain sending to his muscles messages that he can’t control.
Matt is on a mission to promote awareness, and plans to dispel myths about his illness after he attends the national Tourette Syndrome Association’s annual Youth Ambassador Training Program Tuesday through Thursday in Washington D.C.
Matt wrote an essay for the program, where he’ll get information about the widely misunderstood illness. Then, Matt plans to speak at Grovetown Middle School, where he is a sixth-grader, and at other schools, civic clubs and groups about Tourette’s syndrome and its symptoms.
He also hopes to displace the myths and stereotypes associated with the disorder.
“I’m going to go out there and show these people that Tourette’s syndrome isn’t what they think it is,” Matt said.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Tourette’s syndrome sufferers exhibit coprolalia, blurting curse words or inappropriate words or phrases.
“That’s only about 15 percent,” said Matt’s mother, Carla. She’ll be attending the training with Matt and his grandmother, Bonnie Maricic. “I’m very proud of him.”
On Thursday, Matt, his mother and grandmother will meet with local elected officials during Trip to the Hill, to inform them of how Tourette’s syndrome affects local residents. They’ll also go to a congressional luncheon briefing, hosted by other youth ambassadors, to hear about their struggles with the disorder.
Matt was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome in late 2011 as an 11-year-old fourth-grader. He was a year older than his older brother McClain, 17, was when he was diagnosed with the same disorder.
Matt, who is very outgoing and friendly, said he’s confident and not afraid to stand before a group and talk about his Tourette’s syndrome. He hopes to specifically reach bullies, especially those who beat him up, push him down and otherwise torment him for his disorder.
Tourette’s syndrome is not the only thing that should define who he is, Matt said.
“I don’t know why people treat other people differently,” Matt said. “If they have Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy or Down syndrome, that shouldn’t mean they are treated differently.
“I’d start telling kids you’re not different if you have this or that. You shouldn’t be treated differently.”