Where Should Treatment For Tourette Syndrome Focus?

Tourette’s syndrome, despite the common view of people swearing all the time is primarily a tic disorder. Coprolalia, the “swearing tic” occurs in a tiny minority of Tourette’s sufferers. There are techniques and therapies to help people with Tourette’s to manage their symptoms, and therapy is typically based on cognitive behaviours focused on helping a child to manage or prevent their tics. But what if tics aren’t the biggest problem?
Current treatment focuses on tic prevention and symptoms, but the biggest impact on the life of an individual with Tourette’s syndrome is one of low self-esteem, social withdrawal (Kurlan, 2014), and the resulting negative effect on quality of life (Cutler, Murphy, Gilmour & Heyman, 2009).
The conventional thought for those on the outside is to fix the problem. “Fix the tics” and the problem will go away right? What if the problem isn’t actually the problem? What if the problem is something much deeper, and sadly, a problem with society and not the person? What if tic severity isn’t the problem? What if society is the problem?
But… What if a child could use, to quote an article relating to US Men’s National Soccer Team goalkeeper, their “superpower” to build self-esteem through sport? Could they then use their cognitive focus on the same leisure, academic, and athletic pursuits as their friends? Could they even improve their social standing and gain confidence through sport? Most children grow out of tics, but rarely do we grow out of social distress.
This isn’t just true for people with Tourette’s syndrome. Social withdrawal is one of the bigger fights a person with a disorder or mental illness has to face. We can do better than this as a society, we can help people find ways to manage their condition without alienating them or making them feel like they are on the outside.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Sometimes the disorder or illness isn’t the problem. Sometimes it’s how people are treated because of the problem.
2 – A mental illness doesn’t have to be the label that identifies the person. I hope to show in my dissertation (please, please let the evidence support this…) that the “kid with the tics” can become “the kid we want on our team.”
3 – We can’t fix mental illness, but each of us can help someone with a mental illness to overcome the biggest challenge they face, the social withdrawal or anxiety.
We can do better as a society to help people integrate. What if Tim Howard had never gone out to play soccer because he was teased? How many other Tim Howard’s are there sitting at home, wanting to give something to society and yet have been teased or bullied to the point they don’t want to leave the house? We can do better.
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Cutler, D., Murphy, T., Gilmour, J., & Heyman, I. (2009). The quality of life of young people with Tourette syndrome. Child: Care, Health and Development, 35(4), 496–504.
Dahl, M. (2014, July 02). Can tourette’s help explain Tim Howard’s superpowers?. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/07/can-tourettes-explain-tim-howards-superpowers.html
Kurlan, R. M. (2014). Treatment of Tourette syndrome. Neurotherapeutics, 11(1), 161–165.

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