Tourette's Syndrome

What’s the Truth About Tic Disorders?

Think you know the truth about tics? Read on to learn about — and bust — common myths about tic disorders like Tourette Syndrome.

A mother and daughter looking up facts about Tourette Syndrome on a tablet
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The Deal with Tics

Most people have heard of tics — sudden uncontrollable movements or sounds. However, the condition behind these spasms — tic disorder — is greatly misunderstood and often misrepresented by the media. Check out these common myths about tic disorder, and get the facts about a disorder that impacts up to 20 percent of children.

[Self-Test: Could You Have A Tic Disorder?]

A street sign with profanities on it, representing a common incorrect "fact" about Tourette Syndrome
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Myth 1: People with Tourette’s shout profanities without warning.

This is a common misconception. Truth is, coprolalia — or unintended swearing — only affects about 10 to 15 percent of people with Tourette Syndrome. However, it’s often used in film and television portrayals of people with Tourette’s or other tic disorders, making it a common (over-exaggerated) stereotype for people unfamiliar with the complexities of the condition.

A girl with a lightbulb over her head as she learns facts about Tourette Syndrome
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Myth 2: People with tic disorders are developmentally delayed or mentally impaired.

Tic disorders are not correlated with intelligence, and many people with the condition are of average or above average intelligence. There is, however, a high correlation between tic disorders and learning disabilities, with about 25 percent of those with tic disorders also demonstrating LD such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or auditory processing disorder.

[What Is a Tic Disorder?]

A man driving a car, angry that most people don't know facts about Tourette Syndrome
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Myth 3: Those with Tourette Syndrome have anger-management problems.

This is another common stereotype often used in film and television. Sudden explosive outbursts do occur in about 25 percent of children with Tourette’s, but experts theorize that these are mostly uncontrollable and not a manifestation of real anger. Most children feel intense shame and remorse after a “rage attack,” and in general are no angrier than their peers. In the rare cases where anger is a problem, antipsychotic medications have been shown to be effective forms of treatment.

Medications used to treat Tourette Syndrome; the facts about Tourette's treatment are not well known
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Myth 4: The only way to treat tics is with medication.

Not true! Most tics go away on their own, so the most common treatment is actually a “wait and see” approach. After that, relaxation strategies and behavioral therapy are recommended by most doctors. Medication is typically only used when tics are unusually severe or if they cause the individual great distress.

[Self-Test: Tic Disorders in Children]

Pediatrician giving a lollipop to a little girl at her office after evaluating for Tourette Syndrome and sharing some basic facts.
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Myth 5: Stimulant medications cause tic disorders.

Experts worried about this for years, particularly when treating children with ADHD. Current research suggests that stimulant medications do not cause tic disorders, and stimulant use has been removed from the DSM-V list of possible causes. Some studies suggest that at most, stimulants may bring out tic disorders in those who are genetically predisposed to them — in most cases, however, the tic will go away when the medication is discontinued.

Man with Tourette Syndrome tries to meditate and think about the facts of his condition.
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Myth 6: When people with tic disorders try to suppress their tic, it will make it worse or lead to more tics.

This misconception traces back to Freudian psychology, which suggests that suppressed “urges” manifest in other ways — including the urge to go through with a tic. However, decades of research show that this isn’t true. In fact, one recent study showed that patients who learned suppression techniques experienced a 26 percent decrease in tics — and no new tics formed in the meantime.

A man worried in a dark room, scared that most people don't know the facts about Tourette Syndrome
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Myth 7: Tic disorder is a childhood condition.

Tic disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood, and many children see their worst symptoms before age 18 — but that doesn’t mean it goes away once people reach adulthood. About 1 in 100 people are thought to live with tic disorders, including adults, and tic disorders can even start in adulthood, though it is fairly rare.

ADHD Woman wit blackboard question marks
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Myth 8: Tic disorder only affects Caucasians.

Tic disorders are diagnosed twice as often in non-Hispanic Caucasians than in any other racial group, so this misconception is somewhat understandable. However, tic disorders affect people across all racial and ethnic groups, and some experts wonder if this disparity is in fact due to underdiagnosis in non-white communities.

Girl looks nervous and wonders if people know the facts about Tourette Syndrome
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Myth 9: Tics only occur in children who are nervous or afraid.

While stress can make tics worse in some children, it cannot cause tics. Tic disorder is related to brain chemistry and the basal ganglia — and has no correlation with particularly “nervous” children.

Two office workers celebrating their success with Tourette Syndrome, a little-known fact
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Myth 10: Those with tic disorders can’t function in regular society.

False! Plenty of successful people have tic disorders or Tourette Syndrome, including Dan Aykroyd, Tim Howard, and Michael Wolff. Since tic disorders are highly treatable, most people find they can reduce their tics to barely noticeable levels with therapy or medication. Plus, anecdotal evidence suggests that friends, family, and colleagues can easily get used to tics — meaning that a supportive environment is great therapy, in and of itself.

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