Dispelling the myths of Tourette Syndrome

image: man with tourettes syndrome

Today marks the International Day of Awareness for Tourette Syndrome – a disorder often misunderstood and surrounded by stigma.

Tics are the hallmark symptom of Tourette Syndrome (TS), presenting as sudden, rapid, and repetitive movements or sounds. Tics can be categorized into motor tics (involuntary movements) and vocal tics (sounds or words). While the exact nature and severity of tics vary among individuals, many myths exist about the disorder. Some of these include: 

Myth 1: People can control and stop their Tics 

One of the biggest myths about Tourette Syndrome is that people can control their tics or seek attention. Tics are involuntary and difficult to suppress. They can be compared to reflexes or sneezes, often occurring spontaneously and without warning. This lack of control can be frustrating and distressing for individuals with TS.  Imagine if you had to stop yourself from blinking.

Myth 2: Tourette Syndrome is bad behaviour 

Tourette Syndrome is not a behavioural disorder but a complex neurological condition. It involves abnormalities in the brain’s structure and function, affecting the circuits responsible for movement and impulse control. Tics do not reflect a lack of discipline or poor parenting; it is an inherent neurological condition. 

Myth 3: All people with Tourette’s shout swear words 

Uncontrollable swearing and obscene gestures are called Coprolalia. Coprolalia is relatively rare, affecting only a few people with TS. This has been sensationalised through the media. Most individuals with TS experience motor and vocal tics such as whistling, sudden jerky movements, tongue clicking, repetition of movement and words, grunting, and eye-rolling. 

Myth 4: Tourette Syndrome is a childhood disorder that disappears with age 

TS is often diagnosed in younger people and can initially be misdiagnosed.  There is no known cure for TS; however, with treatment and understanding, people can learn to manage their Tics and reduce their impact on their daily life.  This treatment can include knowing your triggers, reducing stress and improving sleep habits.  People can live an everyday life with TS.

Myth 5: Tourette Syndrome is a rare disorder 

Tourette Syndrome is not as rare as you might think; it affects 1% of the world’s population.  Chances are high that you know someone who has TS.  Some celebrities diagnosed with TS include Lewis Capaldi, Billie Eilish, Dan Aykroyd and Mozart.  People assume it’s rare as it’s often misunderstood and underdiagnosed.  Social media is helping share awareness and reduce stigma through Tourettes TicTok videos.

Myth 7: Tourette Syndrome affects intelligence or cognitive abilities 

Tourette Syndrome does not affect intelligence or cognitive abilities. Individuals with TS have a standard range of intelligence. Tics can be very exhausting and distracting, making it challenging to focus, learn and sleep which means someone with TS may have difficulties learning. 

By promoting awareness, empathy, and acceptance, we can create a supportive environment for individuals with Tourette Syndrome, allowing them to thrive and lead fulfilling lives. Education and open-mindedness are vital in challenging the misconceptions surrounding Tourette Syndrome and embracing a more inclusive society. 

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