What is Tourette Syndrome and how do you support someone who has it?

What is Tourette? 

Tourette Syndrome is a condition that causes a person to make involuntary movements or sounds that are known as tics. These can be vocal, or movement based, or both, and are completely out of the control of the person that is having them. Usually these these tics start during childhood, usually between the ages of 2-14 years old, and often the tics and other symptoms get better after several years, sometimes even going away entirely. Whilst there is no cure for Tourette’s there are treatments that can help one manage the condition.

What are the symptoms? 

Often those with Tourette’s have a combination of vocal tics and physical tics. Physical tics may include, but are not limited to, the following.

  • Blinking
  • Eye rolling
  • Grimacing
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Jerking head or limbs
  • jumping
  • Twirling

Vocal tics may include, but are not limited to the following.

  • Grunting
  • Throat clearing
  • Whistling
  • Coughing
  • Tongue clicking
  • Animal sounds
  • Saying random words or phrases
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Swearing

Contrary to popular opinion, swearing only affects one in ten people with Tourette’s. Tics can often be linked with stress, and can be worse under periods of extreme stress, tiredness or anxiety.

Premonitory Sensations 

Most people with Tourette’s experience a strong urge or sensation before they have a tic, similar to those experienced by people before you sneeze. These are known as Premonitory Sensations. These can include burning sensations in the eyes before blinking, a dry or itchy sensation in the throat before coughing or clicking, itchy or tight muscles before jerking.

How can you support someone with Tourette’s? 

There are many basic and small ways that you can support someone with Tourette’s syndrome. One of the most important things to remember is that when you friend starts to tic, you should try your best not to stare at them. Tics can be obvious, but staring will only make your friend or colleague feel more self conscious about them, which in turn might make the tics worse. The more aware of their tics a person is, and the more frustrated they are by them, the more they happen.

It is also important to address tics according to the person’s personal acceptance of them. Some people will be more comfortable with their tics than others. Ask them what they are comfortable talking about and ensure that it is not all you talk or ask about with them. It will be something they think and talk about a lot and do not want it to be the sole topic of conversation.

Be aware of distress and offer subtle help. Tic attacks are often a sign of anxiety, fatigue or stress. Diverting attention, talking about something else or offering an out of the stressful situation can help.

The most important thing to bear in mind is to listen to the person and their concerns. Knowing that you are willing to help and offer support will make them more comfortable talking to you about what they need.