Not a Joke

TS is not a joke

Dear Celebrities: We’re not laughing. Tourette Syndrome is no joke.

By: Amanda Talty, President and CEO, Tourette Association of America

Recently on MSNBC’s Meet The Press Daily, host Chuck Todd commented that President Trump “tweets like a Tourette’s.”

We’d like to set the record straight. People living with Tourette Syndrome are not “A Tourette’s.” They are mothers, fathers, children, educators, award-winning journalists, Olympic Gold medalists and professional athletes, actors, rising pop musicians, authors and so much more. They are a community of equal, exceptional individuals who don’t want to be defined by their tics.

Todd’s foot-in-mouth comment was hurtful and harmful. However, when he was confronted by the community, he offered up an apology on national television.

Todd Apology

“It was insensitive and I apologize. I am sorry that it took the President of the Tourette Association of America to reach out and remind me about the misunderstandings surrounding Tourette Syndrome. We can all do our part to stop the stigma.“

Todd’s original comment is far from an isolated incident. We have seen the abuse of the word Tourette again and again in pop culture. Unfortunately, Todd’s acknowledgment and apology is a rarity.

Back in January, Sharon Osbourne told The Daily Mirrorhow her arguments sometimes play out.

Osbourne Header

“I unfortunately react in the moment …,” Osbourne said. “A little thing will fly out of my mouth and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I think before I did that? Why did I do that?’”

She went on: “I should bite myself or something. Sometimes I think I have Tourette’s without too much swearing. I do.”

While Osbourne might have poor impulse control, her outburst is a tantrum, not a syndrome.

Tourette Syndrome is a medical condition. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by sudden, involuntary movements and/or sounds called tics. They can include eye blinking, head jerking and facial movements — throat clearing, sniffing and tongue clicking.

For some, the tics are mild and barely noticeable. For many, they’re disruptive and embarrassing. It can be straight-up hell. The tics start on the playground and can continue on through the board room, an unwanted sidekick for life. There are no cures for Tourette, just options for managing it.

In February on The Ellen Show, actor Alec Baldwin shared a story about filming for his role in the movie BlacKkKlansman. While shooting a scene, Baldwin said he’d mess up the lines and swear and scream and say “horrible words,” which later made it into the movie’s outtakes.

After seeing the film, one of Baldwin’s friends praised him for his performance: “That whole Tourette thing you’re doing on the movie is fantastic!” he reportedly said. “That thing where you’re screaming your head off and swearing.”

Here’s the truth. The involuntary utterance of obscene words has a name, and it’s not a four-letter word. It’s called coprolalia, and it’s much rarer than the media make it out to be: Only 10 percent of people diagnosed with Tourette experience these symptoms.

The stereotype, however, isn’t rare. And it can hurt someone with Tourette Syndrome more than the tics. Like the one in 100 school-age children and countless adults who have the condition. They’re not rude or angry, just misunderstood.

That’s why we’re launching a new campaign to stop the use of “Tourette” as a punchline, slur, an excuse for poor behavior — much like the efforts to stigmatize the use of references to mentally handicapped or sexual orientation as a joke or insult. We firmly believe education can combat ignorance.

All we’re asking for is compassion and inclusion. Our community is more than a hackneyed cliché. Get to know someone who struggles with tics, and you’ll see that too.

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