Tourette’s is a neurological condition. It is a tic disorder, and it is also a lot more common than you think it is.
So, what is a tic disorder? A tic disorder is characterised by the presence of tics.
So, what are tics? Tics are utterances and movements which are unvoluntary, sudden, rapid, repetitive and non-rhythmic. I’m going to draw attention to the word “UNVOLUNTARY”, written with a “U” not with an “I”. There’s a difference between the two.
Involuntary means there is absolutely no control over it, most people think tics can be involuntary, and it actually lies on a spectrum. What I mean by unvoluntary is there is an urge to perform the tic that you cannot control, but you can control to an extent how you perform it.
To give an example, imagine you have an itch on your arm, you can’t control the urge or the presence of this itch on your arm. What you can control is getting rid of the urge by scratching it, and you probably would want to scratch it right away and satisfy that urge but if need be you can actually delay, you can wait a few seconds before scratching, but generally the itch will become more intense and you’ll find it very hard to focus on anything else other than the itch until you’ve dealt with it.
The phenomenon of tics is very much the same, tics are preceded by bodily sensations or urges, which people (with TS) notice, they are not necessarily the same as an itch, it can feel a bit like a sneeze coming on or the need to blink. Basically, it’s a weird sensation and the only way of getting rid of it is by performing the tic, and that is what I mean by unvoluntary.
The other thing about tics, is that it is just not as simple as movements and sounds, the process is a bit more complicated than that. You can have simple tics involving just small groups of muscles or short sounds such as squeaks, or sniffs, or grunts. You can also have complex tics, which are perhaps sequences of movements, or actually uttering words or chains of sounds.
Additionally, there are also tics which involve repeating or mirroring what someone else has done or said, so you may hear the terms “echolalia”, which is repeating what someone else says, or part of their sentence, “echopraxia”, copying what someone else did, “palilalia”, which is when you say a word or make a noise and need to repeat again what you said, so it’s a bit like echolalia but with yourself.
And then the one that people always think about when they think of Tourette’s: “coprolalia” and “copropraxia”, which refers to swearing and making obscene gestures. It actually bothers me when people think that Tourette’s is just about swearing. Coprolalia and copropraxia are actually relatively uncommon, less than 10% of people with Tourette’s will actually swear (as a tic), but the important point is that there is a mixture of at least one vocal tic and multiple motor tics, all of which must have started before you become an adult, some places say before you’re 18, some places say before you’re 21, but usually tics emerge by the age of ten. That said, not everyone fits the mold.
The last thing I want to say about Tourette’s is, Tourette’s and tic disorders are probably not as uncommon as you think they are. At least 1 in 4 children will experience tics, which will rapidly go, known as Transient Tic Disorder, you will probably have noticed people who might blink quite forcefully or rapidly or in a way that seems slightly abnormal or people who twitch their eyebrows. The most common tics actually involve the facial area, particularly the eyes, and these are all tics. In the case of most people they will end up subsiding, but people with Tourette’s develop various different types of tic that wax and wane, so you may get one tic and then once you’ve finally got used to this tic being in your life it leaves and gets replaced by a new one.A Brief Introduction to Tourette’s Syndrome – YouTube