International Tourette’s Awareness Day: 7 things you should never say to someone with the condition

Upset young woman
Upset young woman
6:00am, Mon 07 Jun 2021
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Living with a Tourette’s diagnosis is hard enough without the misinformed and unhelpful phrases people often say in day-to-day passing.

There are not many subjects more sensitive than someone’s health, yet Tourette’s – a condition of the nervous system that causes people to have ‘tics’ – is a topic many people feel they can comment on.

While you may not mean to be hurtful or insensitive in conversation, it’s good to remember that words can have a major impact, and thoughtless phrases can stick. Here are some of the most common to avoid…

1. You don’t seem like you have Tourette’s

Tourette’s affects the brain and nerves, causing people to repeat movements and sounds, also known as motor and vocal tics, that are completely involuntary.

Tics can be worse on some days than others – and stress can play a key role in their intensity. You might catch a person with Tourette’s during a period where their tics aren’t on display, but this doesn’t mean they’re lying to you, or are any less impacted by the condition.

2. Why don’t you swear?

The most common myth about Tourette’s is that people with the condition always blurt out obscenities in public.

The reality is that most people with the condition don’t excessively use bad language. Tics can come in all shapes and forms, and coprolalia (involuntary swearing) is just one of many different types that can affect a person.

3. It’s all in your mind

Having a tic is hard to suppress. The motor and vocal tics of Tourette’s aren’t a conscious decision, meaning people can’t control them simply by concentrating harder on them.

4. Stop drawing attention to us

While the exact cause of tics is still not known, many people compare the feeling of having a tic to having an itch or having to sneeze. It’s really hard to stop it in its tracks.

The reality is that the person with Tourette’s would likely give anything to be able to give up their tics, so getting frustrated with them will only cause them further upset, hurt and embarrassment.

5. It must be hard for you to date

People who have Tourette’s syndrome just want to be treated like everybody else. While it’s true the symptoms can cause some people to have difficulties throughout their lives, many people are successful in work, relationships and family life.

People with Tourette’s don’t want sympathy, they just want others to better understand the condition so they don’t feel different. Pointing out that tics are unusual will only serve to make the other person feel alienated.

6. I sometimes think I have Tourette’s too

Blurting out an item you forgot on the shopping list, or randomly getting a twitchy eye after too much screen time, is not the same as having Tourette’s.

It’s a life-long condition that can be difficult to manage and, at times, devastating to live with. While you might be trying to make light of the situation, joking about having Tourette’s can rightly come across as offensive.

7. I’m sure you’ll be able to overcome your tics

There’s no cure for Tourette’s syndrome, and while behavioural therapy can help people to reduce tics, there’s no wellness ingredient, exercise method or positive thinking mantra that can make it go away.

Tourette’s syndrome can be strange to those who do not know or understand it, so it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers right away. As with any disorder, it’s important not to ignore it, and if you know someone with Tourette’s, make sure you listen and learn from their experience.

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