NEW CANAAN — Since he was a young boy, Tom Gnuse had annoyed family and friends with his constant drumming on the table.

His drumming, coupled with a series of other motor and vocal tics, would today likely be a clear indication of Tourette syndrome. However, when Gnuse was a boy, understanding of the affliction was limited.

It wasn’t until Gnuse turned 42 — then a successful venture capitalist, with an MBA from Harvard Business School and three years’ service as a lieutenant in the Air Force under his belt — that he and his wife, Jeanne, became aware of Tourette syndrome and recognized Tom’s tics as symptoms. Since that time, the couple have opened a business, HTG Investment Advisors, on Locust Avenue, and have become active supporters of the Tourette Association of America.

The pair were honored at the TAA’s annual gala on Nov. 14 for 30 years of service.

More Information

To see the Gnuse family video featured at the gala, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMoPakKLj5Yv=DMoPakKLj5Y

For more information on the TAA, visit tourette.org

Q: What were your motor and vocal tics, and how did you first become aware them?

T.G.: Other people became aware of them and told me about it when I was 5 or 6 or 7. Mainly, they were just a combination of things people would consider simple motor tics. Eye blinking, drumming the table, snapping my fingers, shoulder shrugging. A whole variety of things that are semi-controllable, but often subconscious.

Growing up, people around me observed these things, including some people in the medical field. A chiropractor who happened to be my Scout leader worked with me a bit, but nobody really understood at the time what the underlying neurological issues were. The chiropractor thought it was muscular or spinal; other people thought it was nervous tension.

Q: Did your tics interfere with your life on a day-to-day basis?

T.G. : I think more than interference, it’s a situation of not knowing what the cause is and thinking there must be some easy way to stop it. But it’s this kind of urge that gets greater and greater, and the longer you postpone the release, the greater it becomes.

It interferes mildly with interactions and with people’s first perceptions. But after a while, I think that tends to become less an issue as you get to know people and they get to know you. For people of my level of symptoms, it doesn’t interfere with participation in things like sports. It’s not intellectually impairing in any way. But it can be tiring at times just dealing with the issue. It’s all about learning to deal with it.

Q: How has an organization like the TAA helped you to deal with Tourette syndrome?

T.G. : TAA can help get the word out to people so the people that have Tourette’s, their families and the people they come into contact with understand what they’re dealing with. The more the general public knows about Tourette’s, then the easier it is to keep it from interfering with things one might want to enjoy.

Q: In what ways has popular opinion and understanding of Tourette syndrome changed since you were diagnosed?

T.G. : There was no information that I was aware of until about 1982 or 1983. It’s a long way from that now. In particular, I think people can find the information now because of a combo of what TAA has done and what’s available now on the internet. All you have to do is search “tic” and you’ll get a list. You have a plethora of information.

All that families, caregivers or doctors need to do is expend the energy to type that word in and they can find out lots and lots of information that leads to understanding what it is, how they might get help, where support groups for parents can be found. There’s been an explosion of information.

Q: Was it a relief to you to be diagnosed so late in life? Was it scary at all?

T.G. : Uncertainty is harder to deal with than a situation where you know what’s going on. It’s also not a degenerative situation; you don’t get worse. In fact, some people get better.

J.G. : I always thought that I was causing what looked like tension. The fact of the matter was I was allowing him to relax. When he’s relaxed, there tends to be fewer symptoms because he can better use self control. Also, once I knew what was wrong, I felt a lot of compassion and understanding. It allowed me to be a part of the solution. One of the things that came about was getting out of a job where he was on an airplane a lot. So we started our own wealth advisory business 24 years ago.

T.G. : That wasn’t the only driving force behind starting our own business, but it was a driving factor. It’s far easier having your own business, rather than the venture capital world I was in, hopping on airplanes and working 24/7. We’ve created an environment here where it’s not 24/7 and there is time for reflection. To do things in an orderly and controlled manner is a big help.

Q: What does it mean to you to have been honored by the TAA?

T.G. : We weren’t really doing this for recognition. We were doing it to help the organization in various ways by participating in research, supporting the gala and being involved in activities. So that was the purpose. We had to think carefully about accepting this recognition, but we did on the basis in that it would be a help to the association.

J.G. : The other hopeful outcome is that we help someone learn. Our hope is that If they have this problem, they’ll be able to identify and adjust and live with it. The other issue is a lot of bullying can take place around a child with tics or movement disorders, so it would be another positive outcome if we were able to educate people and stop some bullying.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1