Unfortunately, as has been the case with far too many media portrayals of people with Tourette Syndrome (TS), the season opener of South Park (“Le Petit Tourette,” 10-3-07) served to perpetuate even further the outright myth that most of those affected by TS have involuntary outbursts of foul language. In point of fact, fully 85-90% of people with TS never experience this tragically socially stigmatizing symptom (medically termed coprolalia). For viewers less familiar with the symptoms of this neurological disorder, the misleading take away message couldn’t have been clearer – unless you curse, you don’t have TS.
Despite our pre-airing trepidations, we do concede that the episode was surprisingly well-researched. The highly exaggerated emphasis on coprolalia notwithstanding, for the attentive viewer, there was a surprising amount of accurate information conveyed. The scripted input from parents, a neurologist, peers and the therapy session with the "TS children’s support group" all served as a clever device for providing these facts to the public.
”No doubt this South Park episode did generate increased national awareness about TS. Nevertheless, we are very concerned that school children with TS will be mocked and even bullied by insensitive peers who may have seen the program,” said Judit Ungar, TSA President. “We realize that for over a decade the writers’ satirical parodies have spared no group be they celebrities, the disabled or political figures. The fact that TS was the subject of a popular TV show attests to the fact that the public is so much more aware of the disorder. Obviously, this increased awareness we’ve worked too hard to accomplish can at times prove to be a double-edged sword.”
TSA contacted the program’s executives prior to the airing, and we will be in touch with them again. Perhaps we’ll succeed in turning this into an opportunity for positive TS awareness.
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