Tourettes is often misunderstood by the general public. Many people associate the term Tourettes with persistent and involuntary swearing (coprolalia) whereas according to Tourettes Action (UK), only around 10 percent of Tourettes sufferers actually do this.
Radio One presenter Reggie Yates recently went on a mission to find talented musicians who also happened to be suffering from Tourettes Syndrome. In a recent BBC screening of ‘Let Me Entertain You’, Reggie introduced us to six young people with Tourettes, whose symptoms disappeared whilst they were performing. The reasons why this sometimes happens are not known.
Reggie gave us a unique and very positive insight into the difficulties faced by Tourettes sufferers and highlighted awareness of TS in an interesting and lighthearted way. It also gave the youngsters an opportunity they may never otherwise have had to showcase their talents. At the end of 12 weeks, the six performed on stage to a live audience and the results were spectacular with no evidence of Tourettes in sight.
So what do we know about Tourettes?
Not much really. Tourettes Syndrome or TS is an inherited neurological condition affecting around 1 percent of children, and for more than half of these children, the symptoms will persist into adulthood. It is characterized by involuntary tics which can be in the form of vocal sounds or sudden bodily movements. The tics vary widely from person to person in both the form and severity. It is more common in boys than in girls.
It’s important to stress that there is an irresistible urge to let the tics out, much like scratching an itch, sneezing or blinking your eye. Sometimes an individual with Tourettes is able to suppress the tics for a while, but the tics have to be let out eventually. Suppression of the tics can be exhausting and can cause tension and stress. Some people, even family and friends of TS sufferers, find it difficult to understand that the tics are completely involuntary, but they most definitely are.
Co morbidities are common
The vast majority of people with Tourettes (over 85 percent) have co morbidities too; this means they have additional conditions existing alongside the TS. These include Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Phobias, and so on. The point is, TS rarely exists by itself as many of the disorders are linked neuro-chemically.
At what age does Tourettes appear?
Most people develop TS in childhood between the ages of 5 and 7 with a peak in tics between the ages of 8 and 12 although this is not always the case. For 50 percent of sufferers the tics will gradually disappear throughout the teens. Commonly, the first tics to appear are persistent blinking of the eyes, facial movements, throat clearing, and coughing. Again, this is not necessarily the pattern as no TS sufferers symptoms are the same.
What causes TS?
No one knows the exact cause of Tourettes syndrome but it is known that genetics play a role although no gene has been identified.
How is TS diagnosed?
There are no medical tests that can be used to identify TS. According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), a diagnosis of Tourettes can be made when a person shows multiple motor tics and one or more vocal tics over the period of a year with no more than 3 consecutive months where no tics appeared. The tics must have appeared before the age of 18 and are not the result of a substance or medical condition.
What is the treatment for TS?
There is no cure for TS. Treatment generally consists of finding ways and strategies to help the TS sufferer cope with the symptoms. Medication is sometimes given but usually only when the symptoms are so severe they interfere with the individual’s ability to function on a day to day basis, or to deal with a co-morbid condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Often, the tics can be alleviated by cognitive behavioural therapy.
By far the most effective way of dealing with TS is by reassurance, understanding, and by providing a positive and supportive environment. Many Tourettes sufferers find that if they direct their energies into something they love doing, like the musicians in the BBC screening Let Me Entertain You, they can get temporary relief from the symptoms of TS.
Advantages of Tourettes
It may seem strange to be talking about the advantages of a condition that also involves distressing tics, however, research has indicated that when it comes to certain skills, TS sufferers perform faster and have better timing ability than those without TS and they also have superior grammatical abilities. Indeed, a number of notable people have suffered from Tourettes including actor Dan Aykroyd, author Samuel Johnson, Goalie Tim Howard and possibly the musical genius Mozart too.