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 or other Tic Disorders to tic more and exhibit more symptoms than in a calmer situation.
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). 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 perceived anger, and not be drawn into further confrontation.
What is Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence.
It is part of the spectrum of Tic Disorders and is characterized by motor and vocal tics. The current estimates are that 1 out of every 50 children has TS or another persistent Tic Disorder.
Law Enforcement Toolkit
This toolkit provides resources to law enforcement, EMTS, first responders, and other support personnel to help understand and support people with Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders.
When approaching someone who may be exhibiting common TS symptoms, simply asking “Is there anything I can do for you?” and “Are you okay right now?” can help. Using verbal de-escalation techniques can increase the individual’s compliance and reduce escalation.
Understanding Rights of Individuals with TS
Tourette Syndrome qualifies as a disability under the U.S. Department of Justice. While some manage without many accommodations, understanding their legal rights is vital due to occasional discrimination.
The Tourette Association of America’s hosts a variety of webinars to further educate the general public about Tourette Syndrome and help support the Tourette community. Please check out the TAA’s YouTube channel to view our webinars.