You know how NPR has their Tiny Desk Concerts? Maybe I should start a Tiny Soap Boxes series on here, with this being the first official entry: A brief rant on something highly personal, and I don’t much care about being all that p.c. right at the moment.
Despite erroneous and ill-informed claims to the contrary floating around on the net, Tourette syndrome (TS) is NOT a learning disability NOR is it a mental illness — definitely not on that last one, especially.
I feel at least somewhat-more-than average qualified to comment on this as 1.) I work closely with a population of students with learning disabilities (whom, I might point out, I love, and who have a whole slew of their own uphill battles against stereotypes and misconceptions to fight; but for me on that particular front – not now; another time, perhaps. Can’t fight ’em all and really must pick your battles – or is it that “they pick you..”?) 2.) I was diagnosed w/ TS myself when I was in 6th grade. I also graduated (w/ ease, I might add) at the very top of my class, and went on to become an honors student in college – w/ ease, I might emphasize again, at the risk of seeming immodest. But like I said I don’t much care right now.
While it is a disorder involving the nervous system (and therefore the brain) TS is a neurological disorder, NOT a neuropsychiatric one (as some claim), in that it affects the body NOT the thoughts, feelings, or mood — that is, excepting as much as tics often cause embarrassing social situations, which arouse feelings of shame, which prompt gloomy thoughts, and thus can negatively affect one’s mood. In other words, TS affects one’s mental state no more than any other ordinary unpleasant experience in the course of a normal human life. It is a movement disorder much, much more than it could ever be classified as a mental one.
The term mental illness implies mental instability and emotional fragility – neither or which are directly caused by TS, or symptoms thereof. At all. TS has nothing to do w/ aversely effecting one’s mind. (Again, other than via understandable discouragement or annoyance – as any disorder or illness is capable of, and indeed likely to, affecting anybody.)
TS is much more similar to something like diabetes, say – which would never be classified as a mental illness. Like diabetes, TS is caused by an imbalance of chemicals. While the exact cause(s) is/are unknown and likely highly complex, it has something to do w/ the level/blockage of neurotransmitters in the brain. And like a person w/ diabetes, someone w/ TS can have their symptoms influenced by factors like diet. A lot of times, I experience tics a lot worse if I haven’t been eating great – or if I’m stressed, over-stimulated, over-tired, exhausted, experiencing tension (which I guess is the same as being stressed, so now I’m just being redundant), etc., etc. But they’re much more manageable if I take better care of myself and my body.
In my professional work alluded to above, I often do some communication on behalf of the LD organization I work for; this includes a lot of stuff on social media. Just today, I discovered the National Center for Disability & Journalism’s style book – a guide meant to aid professional communicators and educators discussing disabilities, etc. in public spheres. The guide emphasizes accuracy – tell it like it is, plain facts, no more no less. It’s a pretty neat guide – although I was a little disappointed to note that their own entry on TS also immediately refers to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Again, to reiterate – just in case my point hasn’t already been made clear – TS is NOT a mental illness. And I believe it does a disservice both to people who have TS and people who do actually have real mental illnesses to state or in any way imply otherwise; it is inaccurate (breaking a cardinal rule of journalism, the commitment to tell the truth at all costs), and therefore misleading and highly aggravating – to say the least.