Mental Health Mythbuster: Tourette’s Syndrome (TS)

gilles_touretteTourette’s Syndrome is defined as an inherited neuro-psychiatric disorder that is characterized by the presence of physical and vocal tics, which are sudden, repetitive movements or sounds that are made seemingly without the person even realizing. Many people have mild tics, but do not have Tourette’s; if a person has tics for more than a year, doctors call this a chronic tic disorder.

When a person displays both motor and vocal tics they are said to have Tourette’s syndrome, which is named for the French doctor Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who first described the condition in 1885. To be diagnosed with Tourette’s a patient must have multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic that has occured for some extended period of time, although they don’t have to occur simultaneously, also, the person should never have a tic-free period longer than 3 months, even if the tics happen off and on or not every day.

In addition, many teens with TS have other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Learning disabilities are common in people with TS. They also may have trouble sleeping. The condition can, obviously, cause a great deal of stress and frustration in those who have it which is why it is highly important for people to be informed and understanding in regards to this, and other, disorders.

People with Tourette’s obviously deserve to be treated just as any other person, and not ostracized or avoided simply because of their condition. However, this unfortunately does not always occur in the real world. Although it is understandable that people may feel uncomfortable or worry about saying something insensitive, it is important to overcome this and make an effort to get to know people who suffer from Tourette’s, just as you would anyone else.


Comics like this are frustrating because they paint a false image of the disorder; people with Tourette’s may have a vocal tic that causes them to express obscenities, but a tic generally wouldn’t cause a person to insult someone rather, they would just cause the person to say the word or phrase. Images such as this one encourage bad behavior; for instance, when teens curse someone off and blame it on their imaginary “Tourette’s”. Teasing like this is not funny, it is simply disrespectful to those suffering from a real and frustrating disorder.

I feel that it is important to understand this disorder largely because of it’s highly noticeable nature. People who suffer from the disorder are unable to (and should feel obligated to) hide their tics from the public – however these tics can cause them a great deal of embarrassment, especially when people don’t understand the disorder and think that it’s something done for “attention” or something that can be controlled.

In my first year of college alone I have encountered two classmates with Tourette’s; one who did not warn the class in advance, and one who did. The classmate who informed the class ahead of time simply made a short speech at the end of the first class, explaining what her personal tics were and asking if the class had any questions for her. She handled herself eloquently and I have a great deal of respect for the candid way in which she managed to present her struggles. However, in my opinion she shouldn’t have to have put herself out there like that, we should have simply been capable as a class of displaying enough maturity not to judge her on a situation we didn’t know about. In my other class, where the classmate did not explain their disorder, people made comments and judgments about his verbal tic, yet in all of the speculation I heard no one even considered that the noises he was making may have been due to something beyond his control. It wasn’t until a student or two who knew him started informing people that he suffered from tourettes that people stopped speculating and mocking.

I wish my peers could have employed a little more compassion and made an effort to respect our classmate’s struggle, rather than making fun of him up until (and some, even after) they found out why he was acting in the manner that he was. Education is a helpful step in developing that compassion because the more people know about something like Tourette’s, the easier it will be for them to recognize it and empathize with someone who is dealing with the disorder every day.

However, education is not everything. I remember a “documentary” done within the last few years by MTV, as part of their “True Life” series, on Tourette’s. While I found the hour-long episode both helpful in gaining a better insight into the struggles of those who suffer from this disorder, I was disheartened to see how many of my peers mocked the participants in this film over the behaviors that occurred as a result of their Tourette’s; the point was, obviously missed by many. Beyond knowledge people truly need to practice empathy, to put themselves’s into these people’s shose and imagine how you would feel if you had insupressable tics that others made fun of. Knowledge is power and now, more than ever, it is so important that we use that power for the common good to raise awareness and understanding for those suffering from mental, physical,  and emotional disorders.

I hope this article has proven slightly more successful than that wonderful documentary, I hope when armed with this knowledge people will stive to be more tolerant and understanding of those dealing with disorders such as Tourette’s and try to pass that understanding on to those around them.

Here is a great website for more information on Tourette’s.

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