Books in Review: “I Can’t Stop! A Story about Tourette Syndrome”

I Can't Stop - A Story about Tourette SyndromeI’d seen this book online in searches about Tourette Syndrome, so I was overjoyed when I found it in my local library.  It looked straightforward and to the point. I was a bit concerned, however, that it would be too childish, too simple to keep the attention of children the age of those on the cover. And it wasn’t the book’s fault. Honestly, I’d just been somewhat disappointed with the results my searches had been turning up. When I read it, however, I was more the pleasantly surprised.


SynopsisNathan, a student in what seems to be older elementary school (or possibly early junior high), begins showing signs of Tourette Syndrome through the sudden appearance of tics. His first tic, winking, turns into sniffing, which changes into head jerking, which becomes barking. His family, friends, and classmates begin to notice his tics. While Nathan feels frustrated with his body for not doing what it’s supposed to, the people around him begin to become annoyed.

Nathan’s only relief is swimming, a sport he’s good at. He realizes he’s not ticcing during his swim meet. After he’s done swimming, however, his tics start up again, and his mother becomes upset, thinking Nathan has control over his tics, since they stopped while he was swimming. When Nathan begins to cry, however, his mother quickly realizes that he really can’t stop the strange movements and sounds, and realizes they need to take him a doctor.

Dr. Phillips, the special doctor they take Nathan to see, quickly diagnoses the boy with Tourette Syndrome. He talks with Nathan about what tics feel like before and while they happen, and explains to Nathan’s family what happens to the brain and body of people with Tourettes, using a marbles to demonstrate.

Nathan’s diagnosis doesn’t solve all of his problems immediately, but it gives him a foundation he can build on. He begins to learn to advocate for himself when others get angry because of his tics, and his family and school work together to help him learn to handle his tics in different parts of his life. With the support of his family, school, and best friend, Nathan learns that even with Tourette Symdrome, life can still be fun and exciting.

Great Writing

  • The descriptions of what Tourette Syndrome feels like – Author, Holly L. Niner, does a wonderful job describer the tics from multiple places in the book. First, she has the main character, Nathan, think about what it feels like when tics are present. Second, she has the doctor use more formal descriptions for the tics. The example using the cup and marbles is brilliant.
  • The progression of Tourette Syndrome – Instead of having Nathan begin the book with the diagnosis, Niner takes us through the different tics Nathan experiences, beginning with more common beginning simple tics, such as blinking and sniffing (of which I’ve experienced both) and barking, and then progresses to more unusual complex tics, such as jerking his head to his shoulder. The tics, as real tics do, change in severity, and morph into new tics over time.
  • The reactions of the people around Nathan – As is common, Nathan’s family notice his tics first, followed by his teacher, classmates, and friends. Since no one knows that Nathan has Tourettes yet, their reactions range from confusion (For example, Nathan’s teacher tells him to get a tissue for his sniffing tic.) to annoyance to anger. Once Nathan begins to self-advocate, however many people around him become more understanding. He must be willing to explain his disorder, however, for them to listen.
  • Nathan’s support network – Once they understand that Nathan has tics, his family and school rally behind him. Nathan’s teacher provides accommodations for his classroom, and his parents apologize for becoming frustrated with him. His best friend sticks up for him, even when others point and giggle. It’s a great example of what a child with Tourettes should have.

Improvement Points

  • The only thing I wouldn’t have minded seeing in this book would be the protection of Nathan’s rights by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, Nathan is asked to leave the library because of his barking tic. Being a good boy, he does as the librarian asks, when legally, he has the right to stay in the library to complete his homework. Given the point of the book, however, which is to explain Tourettes, not get lost in the details, I understand why it wasn’t included in the book.

Parting Thoughts

This is one of my new favorite books. Despite the lack of bookshelf space in my personal library, I’ll definitely be buying a copy of this to share with my students and my own children one day. As I said in the beginning, based on previous children’s material I’d read on Tourettes, I was concerned the book would be took childish, even for the children who need this book. I was most happily surprised, however, and I highly recommend this book to all parents.

If your child, or someone your child knows has Tourettes, this book is a great way to help them understand what it feels like to tic, and that life with Tourettes can still be grand. Even if your family hasn’t been affected by Tourettes, I still recommend this book. Everyone wants his or her child to be empathetic, and this book is a great way to help develop that empathy in an area of diversity most people and school systems don’t think to include.

Do you have something to share about this book, or other books like it? Please share questions and comments in the Comment Box below. (I love hearing what you think!) And don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to receive extra resources I don’t include in my blog, encouragement, and a gift as a thank you for signing up. Thanks for reading!

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  • Angel The Alien on March 19, 2014 at 2:14 am said:

    I love the idea of that book! If I ever get my own classroom (HOPEFULLY next school year) I will add that to my classroom library. It would be great even for kids without Tourette Syndrome, to help them learn that if you see someone who looks or acts different, instead of just thinking of the person as weird, you should realize that there is probably a very good reason for it and that it is not something to be afraid of or make fun of.

    • on March 19, 2014 at 3:30 am said:

      I agree! I love the idea of teaching students about different disorders, not using them to point out particular children in the classroom, but rather as an overall unit. Children with disablities and disorders are often in one of the most overlooked minority groups in our schools. While race and class acceptance are pushed, we often ignore children who are different because of brain chemistry. This author has another book about OCD I’ll be reviewing in the future!

  • Tourette Tales on October 3, 2015 at 7:20 am said:

    This is a book I’ve seen a lot too, our library has no books on Tourettes at all. I had the same thoughts that it looks too simple, I might try and track it down, the only book I did get was so outdated it was useless.

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