How to Help Player with Tourette’s

I have a friend who has Tourette’s syndrome. He’s a great guy, I’ve been friends with him for over a decade. We both love RPGs, and we’ve played many games together. However, his condition occasionally disrupts play, and a few times has even ended a session. Sometimes, when he’s talking, the conversation suddenly ends. You can almost feel it, it’s like the life in the conversation just drains away and you’re listening to a recording. He isn’t talking to anyone any more, he’s just talking. Loudly. There’s no communication getting in or out. It’s like a trance, or a highly verbose seizure. One of these went on so long, I had to shake him out of it. Usually, when he snaps out of it, he barely remembers what he was even talking about. I understand this is hard for my friend, but this is also hard for me as well, because it is very difficult to organize a group game when one of the players could randomly and spontaneously shut down all socialization at the table. It makes other people not want to play, just because he’s there. (I know that hurts his feelings too)

I’ve learned a few of his trigger topics, (Greek myth, the name of any anime he likes, Mormonism, a few others) but sometimes he isn’t triggered by a topic, and it’s impossible to eliminate everything and still be able to talk to him. He’s been a lot better since he swore off caffeine, but it can still be problematic at times.

He has a lot of other little tics, like saying "um" a lot even when he knows what he’s going to say, or "yeah, but" even when he isn’t in an argument, or doesn’t make sense in the context. It’s all verbal. None of it is as disruptive as when he "disengages" though. The trigger topics aren’t really direct triggers. The trigger seems to be somewhere in when he gets a long stretch of time to speak. The trigger topics are just things he has a lot to say about. It’s like he falls apart mid-stream and everything after that is the verbal equivalent of nervous rocking. It tends to come up most during table chatter, when communication takes on a more standard conversation form.

I’m not sure if even he knows how he gets out of it. Usually, forcibly interrupting him and getting his attention works. Usually, he seems pretty embarrassed when he realizes what happened though.

What can I do to help my friend and the rest of my group work around this situation, so we can focus on having fun and playing a game?

I am not looking for a cure. Tourette’s syndrome is just part of who he is. But finding a way to get the game to work around or through it would be beneficial to everyone at the table.

UPDATE: The comments here and my struggles to explain have made me recognize my own ignorance about the subject. So, I talked to him about it some more. The Tourette’s syndrome and the ranting are different things, but they’re related. He wouldn’t have one without the other. The ranting is actually a nervous compulsion. It happens when he is…

  1. Talking about something he is very comfortable or familiar with.
  2. The subject has no logical conclusion.
  3. He talks long enough for his ADHD to make him loose track of why he was talking in the first place.

Basically, he feels compelled to try and finish talking about the subject- everything there is to say about it. Because he can’t remember why he started talking, he’s afraid to stop. Giving up or being embarrassed is usually how he gets out of it. He is aware of the people around him, it just doesn’t seem like it, because he’s panicking. Right away I have some solutions.

  1. Put a premium on table chatter. I’d been considering this, but now I have a good reason for it. I’m not eliminating it entirely, but I’m limiting non-game-related chatter to 1 comment and 1 reply between 2 people. That’s enough to crack a joke and laugh.
  2. Part of the problem is his social anxiety. The only reason he’s anxious is because of his tics. I’m going to talk to the other players with him present at the next game I organize. We need to find ways to make him comfortable with us. Since the group may include strangers, that could be hard.
  3. Obviously, talk to my friend more.

If anyone has any further experience-based information on how to help people with Tourette’s syndrome in the setting of an RPG, it would be greatly appreciated.