Most people have seen the gag of a person spewing profanities, unable to control themselves. They let loose a myriad of F-bombs, and ridiculous curse mash-ups for comedic relief. We laugh. It’s funny. It’s harmless.
It’s really not.
The above example is a minuscule representation of a condition known as Tourette syndrome, more commonly known as Tourettes. Tourettes is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations, referred to as “tics.” These tics are separated into two categories, simple and complex. Within these two categories tics are broken down further into vocal and motor. In order to be diagnosed with Tourettes, individuals have to have experienced these tics consistently for at least one year. Most people with this condition have a variety of both vocal and motor tics. While sometimes difficult to deal with, it does not typically debilitate a person.
Things like movies, comics, and even television tend to make light of Tourettes, but this may not be a great thing. The media likes to focus on one tic in particular—coprolalia. This tic is the involuntary uttering of socially unacceptable things, ranging from mild curse words to slurs. It occurs in upwards of ten percent of individuals with this disorder.
Like most stereotypes, the comedic use of coprolalia as representation of Tourette syndrome has harmful side effects. The idea that people with Tourettes are incapable of controlling their language or their bodies can lead to people with more common tics to be ostracized. Think about it—if you found out that your young child had a teacher with Tourettes, and the only thing you knew about it was that people with it curse, how comfortable would you be with that person teaching your child? The amount of misinformation regarding this disorder can lead to perfectly qualified people not being able to get jobs or make use of opportunities because of discrimination. Not all people with Tourettes curse as their tic, and most people have some degree of control over the tics they do have.
The best way to combat backwards thinking regarding Tourette syndrome is to get educated. Don’t let a harmful TV trope give you a bad idea of what these people are. Like other mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, people with Tourettes are more than just their disability.