THE BEAT GOES ON
HUGHESVILLE – Austin Polcyn doesn’t let something such as Tourette syndrome stop him from doing something he loves – and doing it well.
The nervous tics and involuntary movements which characterize the neurological disorder disappear when he plays the drums.
“It’s something I love,” he said. “I do it every day.”
Polcyn’s passion has taken him to the big time.
Next month, he’ll travel with his parents, Ron and Shannon, to New York City to audition for the television show, “America’s Got Talent.”
It goes without saying that Austin may get the chance to show the world his musical abilities.
It’s also a chance to prove that medical conditions don’t have to mean obstacles in life.
“Music is unbelievable for him,” Ron said.
Indeed, music has been what has allowed Austin to shine.
Life isn’t always easy for people with TS.
Austin was first diagnosed around the age of 6 and displays many of the characteristics of the condition.
“He hops. Sometimes he’ll grunt. He’ll have facial grimaces,” said his father.
He sometimes struggles with speech as well, stammering to get out the words.
Many people with TS face neurobehaviorial problems as well, including attention deficit disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“There’s been a lot of challenges,” Ron said. “It’s just keeping him focused because he will drift off.”
Austin acknowledged he also deals with intrusive and worrisome thoughts that can be characteristic of TS.
“I obsess over my drums,” he said.
Making a mistake can consume his thoughts as well.
Austin is known as an auditory learner.
Reading doesn’t come easy unless he reads the words out loud to himself.
“When I read out loud, I can comprehend it better,” he explained.
A ninth-grade student in the East Lycoming School District, he receives special learning support for his classroom work.
Over the years, his parents tried different outlets to help keep Austin focused.
There was baseball and wrestling, but for Austin the focus was never there.
“Sports didn’t help,” said his father. “We tried them all.”
But music, in particular playing the drums, has been like a godsend for Austin.
Austin has won every talent show he’s entered.
He’s played with local bands and sometimes at carnivals and other local events.
“It’s fun playing drums,” Austin said.
He especially enjoys performing in front of people.
But much of the time he’s just banging on his drums in the family home just outside Unityville.
“He’s been going strong since he’s been 7 years old,” said his father.
Austin first started playing on a cheap paper drum set the family bought him.
It was soon discovered that the more he played, the calmer he became.
Medication also helps Austin.
There is no single medication that helps everyone with Tourette syndrome and none that completely eliminates all symptoms, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Neuroleptics often used to treat psychotic and non psychotic disorders can help with tic suppression.
There is no cure for Tourette syndrome. However, over time the condition improves for many people as they enter their late teens and early 20s.
As it is, Austin may be living through the worst of it.
“We are hoping it’s the worst time,” his father said.
Tourette syndrome is nothing new to Ron, who saw his own father struggle with the condition.
Studies have shown that there is a genetic component to TS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has found that 3 of every 1,000 U.S. children 6 through 17 years of age have been diagnosed with TS – about 148,000 children. Other studies estimate the rate of TS at 6 per 1,000 children.
TS affects people of all racial and ethnic groups. Males are three times more likely to be affected than females.
For Austin, TS is something he’s learned to live with.
When asked if it’s frustrating for him he said, simply, “Sometime yes, sometimes no.”
Right now, he’s looking forward to auditioning for “America’s Got Talent,” an NBC TV reality show that features singers, dancers, magicians and other performers of all ages competing for a top prize of $1 million.
Austin’s mother suggested Austin create an audition tape of him playing the drums
The show’s officials responded positively to the tape, resulting in next month’s trip to New York to play live.
If Austin makes the cut, he could be on national television next year competing against other talents.
“It’s exciting for us, but oh boy,” said his father.