Tics can increase in high stress situations, such as being stopped by law enforcement. It is critical to be aware that an encounter with a law enforcement official- an anxiety and stress provoking experience for some individuals- might cause someone with Tourette Syndrome (TS) to tic and exhibit more symptoms than in a calmer situation. TS is a significantly underdiagosed disorder, particularly in the adult population. Behaviors associated with this diagnosis are often mistaken as actions associated with drug or alcohol use and may appear strange, erratic or purposeful. Due to this, individuals with TS are perceived as being rude, inappropriate, offensive, argumentative and disruptive.
The majority of individuals with TS will try to inform law enforcement officials of their diagnosis, recognizing that they may come across as suspicious. It is very difficult for those with TS to stay still and remain quiet due to the sudden movements and sounds of tics. An estimated 86% of individuals with TS also have another co-occurring condition, which may also affect how the person reacts in a situation with law enforcement.
Law enforcement officers may encounter someone with TS or Tic Disorders uttering obscenities, racial statements, or socially inappropriate phrases (coprolalia). However, only 1 in 10 individuals present this type of tic. It is also possible that law enforcement may encounter someone acting out obscene gestures (copropraxia). These tics, like all others, are involuntary.
It is important for law enforcement officials to try and ignore the typical TS behaviors, even the swearing and anger, and not be drawn into further confrontation.