Ryleigh Hawkins was a bright, social 15-year-old enjoying an annual school sports day when she recalls making an unusual motion, flicking her head to the side. At the time, she didn't realise it was involuntary. And certainly didn't think it might be the beginning of a condition that would change her life.

In the days that followed, she began making involuntary vocal sounds - to the point her teachers at Timaru Girls High School became so concerned they sent her to hospital.

A CT scan came back clear. Tourette's was suspected, but can't be diagnosed before a year of symptoms are documented.

By the time Ryleigh reached Year 12, she had begun swearing uncontrollably too. A week before her 16th birthday, Ryleigh Hawkins was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder categorised by involuntary physical and vocal tics.


"I was in disbelief," Ryleigh, now 18, tells the Herald. "It usually comes up around the age of eight to 10."

And despite most people's idea of Tourette's being a person shouting expletives at random, that particular tic only affects 10 per cent of those with the condition. Ryleigh's one of them. "You know they're words you shouldn't say, so your tic says it," she explains.

"At the start it was hard. I was a social person. I went to parties and all that. I loved being out with friends. But I became very embarrassed. It was emotionally difficult, being stared at."

She remembers being at a public library with her friends, looking up scholarship information. "I was ticking, swearing. My friends knew. But a lady looked up and said, 'I'd hate for my kid to hear that.'"

Ryleigh apologised and explained, as she often has to: "I'm sorry, I have Tourette's." The woman scowled at her. Ryleigh left the library stunned.

A turning point came at her sister's basketball prizegiving. "It was a small room full of people," Ryleigh remembers. She felt like all eyes were on her and her tics and she wanted nothing more than to get out of there and hide away.

"But mum said, 'This is your life.' And I realised I couldn't keep isolating myself. I had to get used to it."

Fast forward two years and Ryleigh has found viral success on YouTube with videos of herself that make light of her condition.

The latest, which shows Ryleigh attempting to crack eggs in her mum's kitchen, was shared by a Facebook page and has racked up 1.2 million views to date.

And there's plenty more on her channel, Tourettes Teen, that are indicative of how the Canterbury teen has dealt with her condition.

"It's a party trick now. It's a good conversation topic. I love when people laugh," which was the fortunate reaction when she blurted out to someone that they were fat.

"Not everyone gets bullied," she explains. "How you cope is entirely up to you."