After being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at age 19, Kayla Sirrell discovered music eased her tics. She has since appeared on ABC’s Employable Me and worked as a brand ambassador for the Salvation Army. She told NeuroWork that, in addition to becoming a famous singer, she wants to create jobs for other people with disabilities.
NeuroWork: When were you diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome?
The first time it all started was probably around 17 or maybe 16. I started throwing things around, like jerking movements, and I had no clue why. I'd do it in my sleep. It got to the point where I had to use plastic utensils so I didn't hurt anyone. We went to the doctor, because it went for around a week and my mum thought it wasn't alright at all. Within that week I also started slurring my words and I didn't know I was slurring my words.
I was officially diagnosed at 19. I got diagnosed for it and I've been getting better, but worse. I've been having seizures lately as well. I find lighting really affects me and can trigger seizures.
NeuroWork: Given you were 16 when you started having symptoms, how did that affect your schoolwork and plans for the future?
I left school in year 10 due to me being sick. I did suffer a lot during that time, because I was on and off with my studies. I couldn't work because all the stuff that was going down and I still can't exactly work, but I made my own job so that I can actually work. So yeah, it was really hard because I had people judging me.
For three years I was still trying to find a job because no one would accept me. And if I did get accepted into a job, I would only last there for about two to three months and then they'd be like, ‘listen, we don't think you should work here anymore’. I think it's just the fact that there's jobs out there where you need to be sociable, and if I’m throwing stuff at people or if I’m throwing things or if I’m dropping things or swearing at people because I'm the one percent of the Tourette’s population that has coprolalia, which is the swearing and obscene insults and gestures, it really dumbs down what I can actually do for work.
NeuroWork: When did you discover your love of music?
I discovered music when I left high school. I always wanted to do music before that but I didn’t know how to go about it. I studied HSC-level music at TAFE and also studied for my diploma at TAFE. I haven’t finished my diploma yet. It was a thing that got me going because I could actually do something and not feel physically in pain or helpless in some form because sometimes I’m in a lot of pain when I'm ticing. So when I play music, it either dims it down or it stops. I was really happy to have that as a little music career.
When I'm on stage performing, it literally, basically disappears. Within the past year, maybe two years, when I did touring around Australia with the Salvation Army for opening their offices, there were a couple of times where my Tourette's would come out, but didn't feel bad at all. I didn't feel bad at any time of my performing because I was relaxed. I usually use music for a relaxant.
NeuroWork: What was it like touring for the Salvation Army?
It was really cool. I got a call from a lady called Fi, who I'm great friends with now. She literally made this event where I'd open for all of their disability employment areas on the other side of Australia. I’m their ambassador for their company. So when I did the touring around Australia, I opened all of their new stores. I spoke to their staff about the challenges I faced in finding and keeping employment and performed five or six songs at each office.
It was really cool and really eye opening. I'd love to do it again, but obviously I'm not the only one that should be getting publicity for having a cool disability. I'm going to say that it is really cool to have Tourette's because I wouldn't be living without it. I would never change it for the world. I would never change having Tourette's into not having anything at all, because Tourette's just made me have more of a personality than I already have.
NeuroWork: Was performing for the Salvation Army your favourite gig?
Yeah, that was one of my favourite gigs and then the first ever one I did for Employable Me, with being on TV, I was literally so excited.
NeuroWork: What was it like being on Employable Me?
I just love being on TV because I'm showing people what it's like to have Tourette's. Being on TV for something that I can't help is kind of cool. I like teaching people the ins and outs of Tourette's because a lot of people see a stereotype on TV. Most of the people with Tourette's have hardly anything at all or they're mild or they're really full on. It just depends on the person. Some people don't understand it at all.
NeuroWork: What are your goals for your career?
My aim for this year is to actually go for the telethon. They raise money for sick kids in PMH [Princess Margaret Hospital] in Perth. I’m planning on performing at least one song on telethon.
My ultimate goal would be to play at festivals, play on TV because I quite like the TV. I either want to be on TV or perform at telethon and music festivals and even just cafes, I'd be so happy just to perform at venues. If I were to get famous, I'd be so happy. I wanted to be a Spice Girl when I was little, so I'm going to live to that but in my own form.
NeuroWork: You mentioned earlier that you have created jobs for yourself. Aside from singing, what other work have you created for yourself?
My other business is my food truck with my mum. I developed it with my mum last year and it was a loaded hot dog trailer. We made hot dogs and we named them after dog breeds. We did the hotdog stuff in Fremantle. We’ve opened a few events, like the Relay for Life. We aren’t currently running the food truck but hope to get it going again soon.
NeuroWork: Why did you choose a food truck?
t's easy for me! I can work around my health and it's the only job that will really accept me and my Tourette’s and other health issues. I can take a day off if I'm sick or if I’m half way through work I can have a rest for a bit. It just gives me a bit more stretch so I can still work to strive my best!
NeuroWork: How hard was it to set up the food truck?
We paid a lot of money to get it up and running and it also took a while to actually get into business. But we got there! We got a few people’s help to boost us and we had some newspaper coverage. But me and my mum basically did the rest ourselves. We bought our made trailer and we had to add stuff to it for the council to be happy and for us to continue with our business. We had to go through multiple hoops to get through it all then we had to ask places and events if we could sell there and get into places then pay them money to have us there.
NeuroWork: What are the challenges in running a food truck?
The challenges we have faced so far has been the distance we can go with our food trailer, food prep, buying products, making sure we get the right amount for the week and cleaning and maintenance. It's a bit of hard work!
NeuroWork: What are your plans for the future of the food truck?
We were going to employ people with disabilities because obviously, I'm not alone. I want people to have a job as much as they do in the disability area because it's so hard to get a job. It's literally the worst thing ever when employers are like ‘Yeah, you can't work here anymore because we can't handle you’.
I wanted to do something that would help people and at the same time help myself. We didn’t get to the point where we could help other people at that point because we didn’t have enough money in the business to have it running over and over again.
So we're looking into either getting into the trailer again, because we’ve still got it, or we're going to open up the cafe at some point. We're really excited to do it. If there are people with disabilities that don't understand things, we're going to have people that can help them out during their shifts. So I'm hoping in the next two, four, maybe five years I can make that happen.
NeuroWork: Who are the people who have supported you in your career journey so far?
My main one would be my mum, she's number one. She's always going to be number one. My family is pretty damn supportive as well. My best friend Bronte. And I think just my true friends around me, they are all very positive and they always giving me good supportiveness and they're always happy to try and help me in some form as well, which is wonderful. I absolutely adore every one of them.
NeuroWork: What would be your advice for other people with Tourette's based on your experiences?
My advice would be to keep going because you will get there in the end. Same with myself. I'm going to get there in the end.
Try your hardest to get help, because even if you say that you don't need it, you might still need it.
Be positive because we're all out there, you just need to find us. And if you do need any help from any of us just reach out to the Tourette's Association of Australia and I'm pretty sure you will find people. Pretty sure you will find some people who will understand you.
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