Despite Tourette's, he hopes to lead and inspire others

Actions
https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/wcm/connect/pioneer/182a149f-51b8-4fd1-85fa-70a21a6da94e/17feb21_news1_photo1.JPG?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE.Z18_1QK41482LG0G10Q8NM8IUA1051-182a149f-51b8-4fd1-85fa-70a21a6da94e-nuPufBQ /web/wcm/connect/pioneer/182a149f-51b8-4fd1-85fa-70a21a6da94e/17feb21_news1_photo1.JPG?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE.Z18_1QK41482LG0G10Q8NM8IUA1051-182a149f-51b8-4fd1-85fa-70a21a6da94e-nuPufBQ /web/portal/pioneer/article/regular-article-detail/people/2021-Q1/17feb21_news1
/web/portal/pioneer/article/regular-article-detail/people/2021-Q1/17feb21_news1
17feb21_news1
17 Feb 2021 | PEOPLE

Despite Tourette's, he hopes to lead and inspire others

// Story by Thrina Tham

// Photos by Ong Ji Xuan

English 华文
Newly-minted specialist 3SG Choo at ALTI, where he trained to be section commander.

The uncontrollable twitches first started for 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Dexter Choo at the age of 14. Back then, he did not understand what it was – and neither did his family and friends.

"It was very hard, because they would say, 'Dexter, why are you doing this? It's a bad habit, just control yourself.'"

He was eventually diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome a year later. This neurological disorder causes a person to make involuntary and repetitive movements or noises, known as tics.

His condition made him stand out and he was picked on by his schoolmates.

In fact, his tics were so disruptive that he requested to take his exams in a separate room so as not to affect others.

When he enlisted for National Service (NS), 3SG Choo resolved to not let his condition get the better of him. He focused on being an asset to his section mates in whatever task he did.

On 17 Feb, he graduated from the 46th Specialist Cadet Course (SCC) in a small-scale parade held at Pasir Laba Camp. Following his graduation, 3SG Choo will lead a section as a Turret Mechanic Specialist.

A total of 1,091 specialist cadets will graduate from the multiple ceremonies being held from 15 to 18 Feb.

Getting diagnosed

The appointment was an important achievement for the 20-year-old, who was struggling with his condition just a few years back.

"When I first started displaying tics, I didn't understand it. It would just happen and I didn't know how to explain it to my classmates or my parents," recalled 3SG Choo.

Teachers would call him out for fidgeting in class, and he would often hear his schoolmates talking about him.

Things were not easier at home. 3SG Choo shared a few heated arguments with his father over his inability to control his "bad habit".

"I must admit that I've shed a few tears. It was hard because my dad had expectations of how he wanted me to be...and as much as I wanted to control myself, I didn't have to ability to," said 3SG Choo, who is the elder of two siblings.

He finally got diagnosed at 15 when a friend of his father – who was aware of the disorder – referred him to a specialist.

"It was a big sigh of relief, I could finally rest easy knowing what it is all about."

3SG Choo (far left) on a morning jog with his platoon during their training in ALTI. He was the safety advocate for the run. [Photo courtesy of ALTI]

Coming to terms

By the time 3SG Choo entered Basic Military Training (BMT) in April 2020, he had come to terms with his condition and learnt to manage it.

His common tics such as coughing, clearing his throat and twitching, remain. He also found that they were triggered when he was stressed or focused on something.

"Apart from that, I think I've been managing it pretty well. Every time I enter a new environment, be it junior college or NS, I've tried to make my condition secondary to who I am," said 3SG Choo.

Still, he admitted to getting called out for fidgeting during parades.

"I really tried my best to suppress my condition on my first day of BMT, but people still noticed," he recalled with an embarrassed laugh.

"After that I thought, 'it's fine that they know', and I focused on trying my best to be helpful to my section and to be a valuable person instead of a liability."

He went on to 1st Army Maintenance Base to train as an Armament Technician, where he was later selected to attend the SCC at the Army Logistics Training Institute (ALTI).

3SG Choo's parents affixing his chevrons on him at home. [Photo courtesy of 3SG Choo]

Thriving with Tourette's

At ALTI, proper planning helped 3SG Choo do well in training.

"Our section always goes through table-top exercises. So when it comes to a task, even if I suffer from tics at one point, once I snap out of it, I'm clear of what role I play and I know where to start again," he explained.

3SG Choo also volunteered as the Media In-Charge (photography has been his passion since secondary school), where he found that capturing his course mates through a lens helped him to interact with them on another level.

Towards the end of the course, the group did an activity where they wrote feedback for each other. On 3SG Choo's list was a comment that said: "When I first met you I didn't really like you, but after a while I realised you're a really nice and kind guy."

3SG Choo casually talked to his course mate about it, where the latter admitted that his first impression of 3SG Choo was that he was weird.

"(The chat) was really comforting to me because it showed that if you treat people with due respect and prove yourself to be an asset, they'll put aside all these small details and focus on the bigger picture."

Looking back, if there was something 3SG Choo could say to his younger self, it would be: "To believe in yourself.

"When people are not comfortable around you, you need to comfort yourself and believe that they will see through your condition and get over it eventually.

"I remember times when I really needed a hug from someone because I felt so conflicted about what was happening," he shared.

He added that the key to helping others with Tourette's was simply to be understanding: "Ultimately, we all need to be supportive to people who suffer from Tourette's syndrome, and give them more time to show them who they really are."

Suggested Reading
Rock around the clock
Cover story
Rock around the clock
OPS & TRAINING
17-Nov-21

Join these Specialist Cadets as they pull an all-nighter for Exercise Sergeant Rocky to mark the completion of their Specialist Cadet Course Foundation Term. Will they make it?

Overcoming the odds to become a Specialist
Overcoming the odds to become a Specialist
PEOPLE
12-Nov-21

Being diagnosed with possible muscle dystrophy did not stop this newly-minted specialist from pursuing his passion to becoming a combat-fit soldier.

Kids Try: Combat Medic
Cover story
Kids Try: Combat Medic
PEOPLE
08-Oct-21

Do sisters Puteri Nur Qalesya, 9, and Puteri Nur Qaifa, 8, have what it takes to be little combat medics? In PIONEER's Children's Day special, they visit the SAF Medical Training Institute, where many soldiers like their father, Major Muhammad Redza, go to learn basic life-saving skills.

Training soldiers, touching lives Feature
Training soldiers, touching lives
PEOPLE
01-Oct-21

MAJ Muhammad Redza Bin Mohd Asri treats his soldiers like his siblings, is not afraid to ask for brutally honest feedback and enjoys making a difference in his trainees' lives.

Fighting together as an integrated force
Cover story
Fighting together as an integrated force
OPS & TRAINING
24-Sep-21

Land and air elements worked hand-in-hand at Exercise Forging Sabre 2021 to give a clear picture of the battlefield and find the most optimal strike asset to take down the various hostile targets.

Smarter, more integrated fighting force Feature
Smarter, more integrated fighting force
OPS & TRAINING
23-Sep-21

It's the SAF's first integrated exercise since the COVID-19 pandemic, and land and air forces came together seamlessly to put their interoperability to the test.

"BMT Artist" captures life on Pulau Tekong Feature
"BMT Artist" captures life on Pulau Tekong
PEOPLE
17-Sep-21

Meet Private Asher Ong - he gets busy when others are resting during admin time, filling up his notebook with sketches of his life at the Basic Military Training Centre. The 21-year-old has made over 200 sketches and notes over the past two months!

SAF Assists Home Vaccination Efforts
SAF Assists Home Vaccination Efforts
OPS & TRAINING
15-Sep-21

Medics from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have been putting their medical training to good use by assisting with home vaccination efforts targeted at the elderly and homebound individuals.

Army's new PX to replace 5BX
Cover story
Army's new PX to replace 5BX
OPS & TRAINING
13-Sep-21

The new Prehabilitation Exercises (PX) aim to help soldiers perform better and reduce the risk of injury over time.

FIRST IN HIS FAMILY
FIRST IN HIS FAMILY
PEOPLE
08-Sep-21

To most, becoming an officer of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would already be a huge honour. But for 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) Muhammad Ilham Rizqullah Bin Rohaizad, being commissioned holds special meaning for him as he is now the first in his extended family to become an officer.