When a Deaf Man has Tourette’s

This post could also be entitled, “When an Idiot Publishes Articles.”

What’s making me angry on Google+ right now?

This. This is. Big angry right now.

There’s something wrong before we even get past the first paragraph:

“Coprolalia has been on my mind because I recently came across a fascinating case study. It is both straightforward and profound, equally suited to be a topic of discussion at a serious scientific conference or an impromptu cocktail party. It is, in short, just plain cool.”

Wow! I found an article about coprolalia that’s “just plain cool”! I wish I had an excuse to swear in public all the time like those awesome, cool people with TS! People with TS: you’re so awesome and cool! I’m sure that’s why you were constantly teased and bullied in school. Because of all that AWESOME COOLNESS.

Anyway, the case study mentioned is that of a 29-year-old man she calls “Signing Sal.” Apparently he’s been deaf since infancy, and also has Tourette’s.

Again from the article:

“In most people, coprolalia involves randomly blurting out obscenities. Sal, however, wasn’t shouting out obscenities—he was signing them.”

OK — absolutely no mention so far of the fact that few people with Tourette’s have coprolalia as a tic. In fact, this sentence implies that an automatic assumption of people with TS is that they, by default, have coprolalia. Greeeeeat.

“The implications are fascinating to consider. Sal’s case illustrates that coprolalia is a lot more than some mere muscular misfire, more than some vocal cords twitching like a bad leg. The fact that Sal’s utterances were in a language that uses hands, not voiceboxes, means that coprolalia isn’t a compulsion of vocalization, per se–it’s a compulsion of expression. That suggests that the outbursts contain some legitimate, meaningful content.”

Well, the implications are somewhat fascinating, though I suspect the person who wrote this article is doubtfully able to appreciate them, let alone tie their own shoes in the morning. Assuming Sal is real and really does this, the concept of signing coprolalia is interesting.

The famous TS motivational speaker Marc Elliot has said that his coprolalia comes more from his comorbid OCD, which causes him to think of the worst possible thing he could say at a given moment. I have thought this about coprolalia, too; though I don’t have it, it’s hard for me to imagine a physical urge to curse that is not, in some way, more cerebral at its core. That’s not to say I can’t imagine having coprolalia; but I can’t imagine it being entirely physical. That could mean, however, that I have a poor imagination. 🙂

“What the authors conclude from this accumulated evidence is that coprolalia, then, comes from some sort of urge to disrupt or disturb others. In fact, they say, coprolalia is a kind of linguistic aggression: ‘The utterance of obscenities is a form of aggressive behavior, and there may be failure in the control of these brief aggressive impulses in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.’ That’s an entirely different dysfunction—and, in my mind, a far more interesting one–than some twitchy vocal cords.”

Well, I’m sure it’s more interesting to all you awesome and cool people who have about as much understanding of Tourette’s Syndrome as rocket science, but is it actually possible that the implications are not about aggression? People with TS swear not because they’re angry, but because they’re afraid of offending or disturbing people, and if anything this fear paralyzes them to the point where all they can think about is the very thing they least want to do.

I guarantee you that anyone with Tourette’s will tell you they are just as bothered by their tics as anyone around them, if not more-so. This means that if anything, people with TS have an urge to disturb and disrupt their own selves. They don’t, of course, but this is the only way that hypothesis would make sense.

It’s true that some people with TS have poor impulse control, and are prone to “rages.” However, there are also plenty of people with TS who do not have these traits. People with TS are just as different from one another as are those in the general population. We all have different appearances, interests, likes, dislikes, and tics. Tics are about a physical feeling, often mysteriously connected with OCD — not anger or aggression. If someone is cursing because they’re angry, that means it’s not Tourette’s that’s causing them to curse. That’s part of the diagnosis. The urge is involuntary.


3 thoughts on “When a Deaf Man has Tourette’s

  1. slackergames says:

    I know that the stereotypical Tourette’s…… Has nothing to do with an aggressive impulse. That guy was an idiot. From what I know about ticks I get them, b/c of meds. They are involuntary. Aggressive actions are voluntary. You can think and control your anger but you can’t think and control your ticks. If you could…. Most people wouldn’t have them. So basically he is saying that people with Tourette’s are aggressive and bad, and that is interesting. What an idiot. Another thing that angers me is that gun ad with that hick saying the “dangerously mentally ill” shouldn’t have guns. I don’t believe that guns are a good thing at all, but I don’t believe that just because you are mentally ill that you are a dangerous criminal. That is ignorant thinking. Hillbillies run this country.

    • willitbeok says:

      Yep. Tics can be caused by medicine, in which case it’s not Tourette’s because by definition TS involves tics that aren’t caused by anything outside influence. I guess it could be argued perhaps as to how voluntary aggression is, but the fact is, as you say, it’s entirely separate from the urges of Tourette’s or tics in general. People with TS are not aggressive and bad, as a general rule, and that is why this post upset me so much. As far as the commercial you mentioned… it didn’t bother me because when I heard “dangerously mentally ill” I didn’t hear “the mental ill are intrinsically dangerous.” The question is, what constitutes “dangerously” mentally ill? I’m sure there are some mentally ill who really shouldn’t have guns, but others who could.

      • slackergames says:

        Yeah you have a point. Some mentally ill people are dangerous. But a lot more “normal” people could be considered dangerous, and all these “normal” people in my apartment complex are aggressive. One guy threatened me. Normal people are the cause of wars, death, and sexual crimes. Just because you are mentally ill doesn’t mean anything. How can you be “dangerously mentally ill”? I was deemed “potential for harm” and put in an institution for two months, but I didn’t do one violent thing at all. They just saw that I was “delusional” and locked me up. It was schiz-ocd where schizo type delusions are obsessions. They didn’t know that. Only one great doctor agreed that I had schiz-ocd and not Schizophrenia, because I could debunk by my thoughts and was actually OVERLY rational. I don’t think there is a connection between mental illness and violence. Maybe there is I don’t know. But I think mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than aggressors due to the fact they are easy targets. Criminal behavior is more the product of environment and upbringing and habits than genetics I think. I don’t think there are “natural born killers”….. I could be wrong. Mentally ill people maybe more violent particularly bipolars and schizos…. But I don’t know. I’ve known alot of aggressive bipolars…. Maybe.

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