Tic Disorder in Media

Tic Disorder in Media

There are three main types of tic disorder which are Tourette’s syndrome (TS), persistent (chronic) motor or vocal tic disorder, and provisional tic disorder. TS affects children who are younger than 18 years old and have at least two motor tics or 1 vocal tic that has been continuing for more than 1 year. Persistent motor or vocal tic disorder consists of motor or vocal tics that have been present for more than one year, but individuals cannot have both. Lastly, provisional tic disorder consists of motor and/or vocal tics that have been present for more than 1 year but do not meet the criteria for TS or persistent motor or vocal tic disorder. Tics are typically experienced from ages 5 to 7, increasing in frequency and severity between the ages of 8 to 12, but most people with TS experience improvements in late adolescence, and some become tic-free. However, a minority of individuals with TS continue to have frequent or severe tics into adulthood. The causes of tic disorder remain unknown. However, research has demonstrated that familial, genetic, environmental, and developmental factors may also be involved (What is Tourette ). Although there are no treatments available for tic disorder, there are therapies available to manage tics (Tics and Tourette Syndrome). 

A study seared international internet movie databases using the term “Tourette’s,” “Tourette’s Syndrome,” and “tics” to generate a list of all movies and television programs that had characters or scenes with TS or a person imitating TS. A total of 37 movies and TV shows were reviewed from 1976 to 2010, and although times and the media have changed since then, people still view these movies and shows. Most of the content viewed in the study misrepresented TS in multiple ways including characters being portrayed as having only autism spectrum disorder (ASD) instead of ASD with TS, coprolalia being overrepresented as a tic, as well as other examples (Calder-Sprackman, Sutherland and Doja, 2014).

Coprolalia is known as a vocal tic that specifically involves involuntary swearing and utterance of derogatory remarks. From the study it was found that of the characters imitating TS, 73% exhibited coprolalia, feeding into the misconception to viewers that it is the most common form of tic or symptom of TS. However, in reality, coprolalia is found in only 8.5% of individuals with TS. Additionally, when coprolalia was portrayed by actors, it was done so in a comedic manner. Combined with the comedic effect and overrepresentation of the media’s portrayal of coprolalia, a common negative and false stereotype of TS that may have been interpreted by viewers is TS as the “cursing disease” (Calder-Sprackman, Sutherland and Doja, 2014).

Another major misrepresentation in the media that was found in this study was that many characters who were portraying TS were made to have an “eccentric” appearance. However, in reality, children with TS do not appear physically different from others. The issue with falsely representing the appearance of individuals with TS lies in the fact that it inaccurately represents TS and promotes stigmatization towards individuals who have TS or other tic disorders (Calder-Sprackman, Sutherland and Doja, 2014). 

In recent times, new stereotypes can be created or old ones can be reinforced on social media platforms such as Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and more. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to educate individuals about tic disorders and types of tics while destigmatizing stereotypes by eradicating desensitizing language or behaviors in scripts and other forms of media. Although the media can misrepresent TS and tic disorders, it can still be a useful tool for educating the public and representing those who have tics. For instance, it was found that some movies and TV shows such as South Park and Harvie Krumpet accurately portrayed tics as uncontrollable urges that can be suppressible in certain situations or worsened in stressful situations (Calder-Sprackman, Sutherland and Doja, 2014). This accurate depiction gives hope that the general public can become educated and less likely to promote stereotypes and misrepresentations to others. Thus, social media and other forms of media can be used in a positive way as well, and that is something our generation can look forward to.



Tourette Association of America. n.d. What is Tourette – Tourette Association of America. [online] Available at: <https://tourette.org/about-tourette/overview/what-is-tourette/#1461071540054-f0944fbc-3f2b>.

Cdc.gov. n.d. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/tourette/documents/tics-and-tourette-fact-sheet-final.pdf> [Accessed 8 March 2021]. 

Calder-Sprackman, S., Sutherland, S. and Doja, A., 2014. The Portrayal of Tourette Syndrome in Film and Television. Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences / Journal Canadien des Sciences Neurologiques, 41(2), pp.226-232.

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