According to the Mayo Clinic website, Tourette syndrome (TS) is “a disorder that involves repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics) that can’t be easily controlled.” A person with Tourette syndrome may repeatedly blink eyes, shrug shoulders, contort facial muscles, or blurt out unusual sounds or offensive words, although the last is rare. The syndrome is named for Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a nineteenth-century French neurologist.
Tourette syndrome is a complex disorder that is not fully understood by the medical community. It may involve neurological abnormalities, heredity, and/or environmental factors. Tourette syndrome most often appears between the ages of 2 and 15, occurring most often in males, and many times going away by the time the person reaches adulthood. But since the tics may include offensive words or immodest behaviors, how should a Christian respond to someone with Tourette syndrome?
First, we should remember that people suffering from Tourette syndrome do not want this disorder. It can be embarrassing and alienating, especially in childhood when peers don’t understand. The tics associated with TS are involuntary and may start at inappropriate times, causing discomfort for all around. Frequently, people suffering from Tourette syndrome have accompanying disorders such as ADD (attention deficit disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), anxiety disorders, or learning problems. They struggle to lead normal lives while the disorder leaves them exhausted.
Second, we should not judge TS sufferers or rush to premature diagnoses. Some tics caused by Tourette syndrome can be violent, such as wild head shaking or lurches that throw the person on the ground. Tourette syndrome is not associated with demon-possession or epilepsy and should not be confused with either.
Third, we should treat people with Tourette syndrome with patience and compassion. Often what Tourette syndrome sufferers need most is normalcy. They want to be treated like everyone else and not defined by their occasional verbal outbursts or motor tics. Because the tics caused by TS are so intrusive, they are difficult to ignore. Christians can help those with this disorder by educating themselves about it and offering acceptance and patience to the sufferers.
God’s Word is powerful and carries the authority of Almighty God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Christians who love someone with Tourette syndrome might encourage him to memorize and meditate on specific passages that give him strength when threatened by the onslaught of tics. Helping a sufferer discover his or her identity in Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 2:20), learn to claim His promises to never leave us (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5), and call upon the Lord as a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10) may help alleviate the symptoms. At the very least, leaning on God’s Word will give strength in coping with TS.
Above all, Christians must never insult, judge, or avoid someone with Tourette syndrome as though such a person were unworthy of love and friendship. TS sufferers are also created by God, in His image, for His purpose (Genesis 1:27). The words of Jesus dictate the way we should respond to someone with Tourette syndrome: “Treat others the way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). If you had Tourette syndrome, how would you want others to respond to you?