Tuesday, February 22, 2011

American Idol's James Durbin brings visibility to Tourette's, Asperger's

From The Examiner:

Twenty-one-year-old James Durbin of Santa Cruz, Calif., (pictured) is changing the world's view of Tourette's and Asperger's, two disorders he has, through his appearances on American Idol.

The contestant this season many are hoping will make it through to the end, Durbin, has a good chance. He can wail like former runner-up Adam Lambert, but he also has an interesting backstory--he has two very misunderstood, often debilitating, afflictions.

He has already, only a few rounds in and not yet into the final group, shown that the stereotypical Tourette sufferer and Asperger adult are not in play here. And that is the most important aspect of understanding these disorders--many who have them do not follow the symptom rules.

You mention Tourette's to most people, and they think it's something comical, not realizing the agony that is really associated with the uncontrollable physical and vocal tics that are part of the disorder. Most people picture someone with uncontrollable cursing (coprolalia) and it is often used for comic effect. The most recent example was on the Showtime series Shameless, which living up to its name, should know better than to fall back on this old, tired, misleading running gag. Only between 5 and 15% of those affected with Tourette's suffers coprolalia. Durbin does not curse, or at least, has not yet on TV (and trust me, if American Idol had the opportunity, they would have exploited it). What Durbin does seem to have are some facial tics, mostly blinking.

His other stereotype-breaking behavior is with his Asperger's. He cries all the time. When he's happy, when he's sad, when he moves on to the next round, when he discusses his tough childhood, after he sings. Those with Asperger's are often believed to be unemotional, unsocial and linear in their thinking. Well, Durbin seems to be one of the most emotional contestants, and he appears to have made a number of friends, and has even uncovered a plot by ruthless stage moms. As he progresses through the show, and we get to learn more about him, stereotypes and misconceptions will fall like bad notes during a Katy Perry performance.

Besides all that, he is a singer with remarkable range and control, very similar to Adam Lambert, which should take him far just on his talent. If he makes it, the public should continue voting him forward...if for no other reason, he's game-changing in so many ways.

Click here for James Durbin's American Idol audition.

Click here for a clip of James Durbin perfomring "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."