Little Heroes – Oscar

“Anxiety is a mental health condition and a lot of people aren’t aware of how severely it can impact your life," says 10-year-old Oscar, who featured in episode two of Paul O'Grady's Little Heroes. "It’s a lot more than just being worried.”

After experiencing regular vocal and motor tics, Oscar began to have episodes where he would drop to the floor. At their worst, his 'drops' would happen up to 100 times a day. Last year, Oscar was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and functional neurological disorder (FND) at Great Ormond Street Hospital's (GOSH) Tourette Syndrome Clinic. 

“We were aware of Tourette syndrome because our daughter has it and we thought that must be it," says Oscar's mum, Suzanne. "However, these drops weren’t something any of us had come across before. Oscar was referred to a neurologist at GOSH, who diagnosed him with Tourette syndrome together with an FND. 

“The neurologist explained to us that the drops were separate to his tics and, in fact, they were a manifestation of Oscar's stress or anxiety.

"The Tourette syndrome had a huge impact on Oscar's confidence; he had to take time off school and he often didn’t want to go out anywhere."

Tailored treatment

Oscar met GOSH Senior Psychologist Dr Maria Hadji- Michael, who started Oscar on a 12-week programme of cognitive behavioural therapy with exposure and response prevention (ERP). The treatment gave Oscar the opportunity to confront his fears and to gradually learn to resist having his usual response to the anxiety. These tasks were part of a tailored treatment plan specific to Oscar.

Suzanne says: “Oscar started to have real anxiety around lifts, so he would always use the stairs. He also never wanted to go out in public because he thought people would think he was strange when he made noises or movements. The impact that anxiety can have on you is enormous.”

Despite Oscar's anxiety, when Suzanne asked him if he’d be happy for Paul O’Grady and a film crew to come and join him as he carried out some of his exposure tasks, he leapt at the chance! Oscar went on to complete a number of exposure tasks, including doing a presentation on Tourette syndrome, taking Paul to the shops and even facing his fears around lifts.

Out of his shell

“When I put it to Oscar, I thought, 'He doesn’t want to leave the house, let alone be filmed for the TV,' but he absolutely leapt at the opportunity," says Suzanne. "I think having Paul and the crew there really added to the amazing treatment given by Maria and the team. It brought Oscar out of his shell and buoyed him up. He absolutely loved it.

“The Psychological Medicine team at GOSH also ran a group session so Oscar could meet other children with Tourette syndrome, and we got to meet their parents. It was really nice to share our experiences and realise we aren’t alone.”

Having finished his therapy, Oscar is now much more confident and his anxiety has reduced considerably, so much so that he rarely experiences drops.

“I think a lot of people think Tourette syndrome is just swearing and actually it’s not at all," says Suzanne. "I really hope people watch the programme and take that message away with them. Anxiety is a mental health condition and a lot of people aren’t aware of how severely it can impact your life. It’s a lot more than just being worried.

"Thankfully, Maria did some amazing work with Oscar to delve into what was causing him to be anxious so now he has some great coping techniques. I’m incredibly proud of his progress and how brave he has been.”

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