This month is Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month in New York State. The syndrome, characterized by involuntary body movements or vocalizations, was first described in 1885 by the French neurologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette, and for the better part of a century, it was regarded as a rare disorder.
That started to change in 1972, when a small group of parents gathered around a kitchen table in Bayside, New York, to form the Tourette Syndrome Association. Around the same time, Dr. Sacks began writing about Tourette’s; he went on to publish essays about it in his books The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars (in a chapter that was originally titled “The World’s Only Flying Touretter Surgeon”), and Musicophilia, as well as in various medical journals (check out Sacks by Subject for a full list of his writings on TS).
These days, Tourette’s is almost a household word, thanks to many portrayals (some accurate, some not so) in the media. It is now understood that the condition affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, and there are research and advocacy groups devoted to TS around the globe.
In spite of these advances, people with Tourette Syndrome still face too much social stigma. Although coprolalia (outbursts of obscene or derogatory language) makes for colorful television characters, most people with TS do not have this symptom. Still, the more common vocal and motor tics often cause difficulties in school, work or family life—in large part due to a lack of understanding and awareness by others.
So we salute people living with TS (and their parents!), and hope you will take an opportunity this month to learn more about the syndrome.
P.S.: The Tourette name was also given to an English microcar built in the mid-1950s. We’re betting it got great mileage!