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Tourette's teen leaves cinema after complaints she was too noisy

Emily Womack Image copyright Tina Zdankiewicz Womack

A teenager has appealed for more understanding about Tourette's syndrome after she was forced to leave her local cinema following complaints.

Emily Womack, 15, and her family had bought tickets to watch Avengers Endgame at the AMC movie theatre in Oklahoma but never got to watch the film.

The cinema's policy is to make sure "there are no disruptive noises during the movie" so Emily arrived at the theatre early to "release her tics".

Emily has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder which causes tics, involuntary sounds and movements. These can be exhibited in the form of words, movements or sounds.

The teenager says she is able to temporarily suppress the tics by releasing them in quick succession for a short period of time.

In a video posted to the Tourette Association of America's Facebook page, Emily explained how she was able to do that.

"I was releasing my tics before the movie started, so that during the movie I wouldn't be ticking because I like to enjoy the movie too, I don't wanna scream," she said.

Emily's mother Tina told the BBC that the family were seated and watching the trailers when they were approached by the theatre manager.

"He informed me that nine people had complained about Emily's noises. I explained that she would suppress the noise during the show and there was nothing to worry about, as it was something she does during every movie she goes to.

"They told me that they can't tell us to leave but that it would be best if we did. I refused," she said.

Image copyright Tina Zdankiewicz Womack

Anxiety can worsen Tourette's symptoms, and on hearing about the complaints Tina says Emily became distressed, so the family took the decision to leave the cinema.

In a statement the AMC movie theatre chain said that the family was offered the chance to stay to watch the film or an invitation to see it at a less crowded time.

"In no way did AMC kick out the guest or family, nor was anyone made to leave. The family initially chose to stay in the movie. Shortly after the movie started, the family chose to leave."

The manager offered multiple passes, and coupons for popcorn and soda for a return visit, the statement added.

But Tina says her daughter was discriminated against because of her disability.

Image copyright Walt Disney Studios
Image caption Emily and her family had bought tickets to watch Avengers Endgame

"This was a crowded theatre where people where laughing loudly, talking loudly, and even kids throwing popcorn and being disruptive, But Emily was picked out of all them, solely due to her disability," she says.

Emily says she would have preferred if people would have approached her directly rather than complaining to the cinema manager.

"I'd appreciate it if in the future somebody could talk to my parents or talk to me before going to the manager. I wasn't even given the chance to watch the movie."

Ending the video Emily asks for more empathy about her condition.

"Thank you for listening to me, and I hope in the future people can understand I don't mean to cause harm to anyone. I really would just like a chance in the future to live normally."

Emily's Facebook plea which has been watched 51,000 times prompted others with Tourette's to share their own stories.

"We didn't take our son for this reason. He gets excited and can't control his tics. He is loud too, so sorry this happened to you," read one Facebook post.

While another comment read: "I'm not 100% sure if it's all AMCs but the one in my town has specific screenings for things like this, that way everyone is included."

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Earlier this week, the American Academy of Neurology released the first ever US guidelines for treating Tourette's.

The Tourette Association of America says 1 in 100 school-aged children have Tourette's or a tic disorder and an alarming 50% are going undiagnosed.

CEO and President of the Association Amanda Talty says: "The request to leave created an environment where Emily and her family felt they were unwelcome as a result of her disability - a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Offering movie passes and popcorn will not erase the embarrassment and shame one feels in situations like this.

"Sadly, this is a story we in the Tourette Syndrome community know all too well and this moment will stay with Emily for the rest of her life."