Tourette’s Syndrome

analysis, biochemistry, biologist

Recently, I watched the movie “Front of the Class,” a story about a man with Tourette’s syndrome who learns to appreciate his tics as a reason for his success. Throughout the movie, the audience sees the man where he is in the present time, striving to become a teacher and spread awareness of Tourette’s, as well as his childhood. 

As a child, the boy struggled with feeling outcast and misunderstood due to his tics. He was viewed as disruptive by his teachers due to his uncontrollable sounds, and as a joke by his fellow classmates. Even his own father could not accept his son’s condition until it was formally diagnosed. 

When he grew up, the man hoped to become a teacher to instill the importance of uniqueness and acceptance in his students. However, with these goals came obstacles as he went from one interview to the next without any success. Ultimately, he is able to get a teaching job and thrives in a learning environment where his students learn to accept his behaviors. 

I really enjoyed this movie because it portrayed Tourette’s in an authentic way: while it does interfere with everyday life, it cannot stop one from achieving their goals. After watching the movie, I was curious about the scientific understanding of Tourette’s syndrome and began doing more research. 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Tourette’s syndrome is a “neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.”

One category of tics are called simple, which are “sudden, brief, repetitive movements,” such as eye blinking and shoulder shrugging, as well as vocalizations. In contrast, distinct, coordinated movements that span many muscle groups are called complex. Some examples of complex tics include facial grimacing while simultaneously shrugging, or saying words/phrases. Such tics often worsen when one experiences stressful or exciting situations. 

Tourette’s syndrome is diagnosed by doctors after “verifying that the patient has had motor and vocal tics for at least 1 year. The average onset of symptoms is between three and nine years old, when early symptoms are first noticed. Although there is no cure for Tourette’s, medication, particularly neuroleptics, are often prescribed to suppress tics.  

Currently there is much research being done to better understand the causes of Tourette’s, coexisting disorders, possible treatments, and more. Through genetic studies, National Institutes of Health-funded researchers aim to use genome-wide screening to detect a gene/genes connected to Tourette’s. Additionally, neuroimaging studies are used to identify brain regions and neurochemcial factors that are related to Tourette’s. In doing so, scientists can determine one’s genetic risk factors, strengthen clinical diagnosis, and provide more effective therapies.

By watching “Front of the Class” and doing research on Tourette’s Syndrome, I have a greater understanding of not only the neurological and biological factors involved, but how it affects the social and mental health of those afflicted. 

You can watch the movie on YouTube here: 

SOURCES: 

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Tourette-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet

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