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Actor with Tourette's plays character with autism

Actor with Tourette's plays character with autism

February 4th, 2018 in Missouri News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Several years ago the then-teenage Jamie Sanders posted a video of himself reading "This Time," a poem he had written about Tourette's syndrome, the brain condition that caused him to shake his head, snuffle and repeat certain sounds or phrases.

In the video, he recalls enrolling at a new school, desperate to find acceptance. Looking into the eyes of his new sixth-grade classmates, Sanders wrote, "I see fear and then amusement, two reactions most commonly seen at a freak show, and my circus tent collapses in my head."

But "This Time" ends on a note of affirmation: "They say I might grow out of it, but why would I want to grow out of my skin? I'm ticking like a metronome and everything is music."

Now 23, Sanders is taking his experiences with Tourette's and putting them to work in his acting career. He's the lead in Kansas City Repertory Theatre's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," the Tony Award-winning play about an teen on the autism spectrum who launches an investigation into the death of a neighbor's pet.

In rehearsals he has wowed director Marissa Wolf, who calls Sanders' Tourette's "an amazing gift that allows him to understand the nuances of the role."

The Kansas City Star reported Sanders didn't always regard his condition as a gift, which makes his current status as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for Tourette's all the more remarkable.

In addition to his "This Time" video, he has his own YouTube channel featuring the recurring series "What's the Good News?" in which he humorously dissects various aspects of living with Tourette's.

In one episode he describes what Tourette's feels like: "Like really having to sneeze all the time, but then if you sneeze people make fun of you."

He also dispels popular misconceptions, like the widespread belief Tourette's sufferers can't help yelling profanities. The "swearing thing," Sanders points out, afflicts only a small percentage of the Tourette's community.

"For most of my life, I've avoided other people with Tourette's," he said in a recent interview in Spencer Theatre lobby. "My symptoms got worse when I talked about it."

In fact, stress is a major trigger for those with Tourette's. Which begs the question: How did Sanders end up in a stressful job like acting?

Well, it's the family business. His parents are Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett, both actors. Sanders said one of his earliest memories is of seeing his father playing Petruchio opposite Allison Janney's Kate in a production of "The Taming of the Shrew" in Central Park.

But his parents never pushed him into acting, Sanders said. He always had an interest in the arts, attending New York's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and majoring in TV production at Boston's Emerson College. He followed that with a year of study at the Michael Howard Studios, one of New York City's premiere acting schools.

And here's the weird thing. When he's on stage, his symptoms appear to vanish.

"Unless he shares with you that he has Tourette's, you wouldn't know it," Wolf said.

But Sanders knows. For him Tourette's is a constant.

"Over time, I've learned how to suppress the tics, but only at the cost of muscular tension," he said. "Every time someone touches my back they say, 'Man, you need a massage.'"