COVID-19 restrictions help teen Tourette's syndrome overcome challenges

Posted at 10:03 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 10:01:18-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Logging onto a video call is second nature one year into this pandemic. The technology is a go-to source for business meetings and family chat sessions. But for Maggie Sheehan and Shannon Floyd it’s far more than that.

17-year-old Maggie has Tourette's syndrome -- a neuro-development disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics. Floyd is an occupational therapist specializing in what's called CBIT therapy. Their weekly video calls are dedicated therapy sessions which started as Maggie struggled to cope in a COVID world.

“The anxiety of COVID, the anxiety of going to school with the diagnosis of Tourette’s, the anxiety of Senior year -- it was so much my body literally rebelled. I was hitting my chest. I was hitting my head. I was screaming,” explains Maggie.

Floyd says Maggie's escalation of tics over the past year is not unexpected, as tics are triggered by anxiety and stress. It’s something a lot of us have felt since the pandemic started, especially children. Shannon has seen the impact on her patients and her patient load.

“They rely on going to school and having the normalcy and structure and routine and now that’s all been taken away. They’re isolated and they’re depressed, says Floyd.

Maggie says the isolation dictated by COVID-19 protocols has been attractive at times and made it easier to deal with her tics. But she also knows the coping skills she is learning through therapy will help her as the world reopens.

“I also have to push myself; I can’t spend every day in the room. I can’t spend every day at home. The pushing through is what I have to practice if I want to be able to live and I don’t want Tourette’s to rule my life," she said.

Shannon points out one positive of this pandemic is that telehealth is now widely accepted, and insurance companies are willing to pay for it. In her case, she is one of only five therapists in Tennessee who provide CBIT therapy and her reach now isn't hampered by geography.