moving human stories, but where’s the science?

A teacher greets a class of teenage girls. “F— off,” says one. “Slag,” mutters another. Before any Ofsted inspectors start reaching for their notebooks, rest assured that these are not badly behaved kids. They have Tourette’s – specifically, the type called coprolalia, which involves involuntary swearing and obscene gestures. Only one in 10 people with Tourette’s has this form of the condition, contrary to popular belief. 

The subject of The Teacher with Tourette’s was Natalie Davidson, who campaigns to raise awareness of this disability and has also made a previous documentary on the subject for Channel 5. She met those teenage girls to give them a talk about resilience because, understandably, they were worried about the prospect of finding jobs when they reach adulthood. 

The documentary did a good job of showing what it is like to have Tourette’s. When Davidson moved to a new house, she wrote a letter to the neighbours detailing her condition, so that they didn’t call the police to report her for swearing at them. She is an engaging character with a gift for explaining things with clarity. At one point she trialled a wrist device being developed by scientists, which reduces the occurrence of tics at the touch of a button. It was a revelation. “To be able to sit and have some silence in your own head, in your own body – that is a life-changing prospect,” she said. 

The most interesting part was a discussion between Natalie and Lauren, a 20-year-old who has become a TikTok star by swearily reading from children’s books. Natalie became upset at the idea that Lauren was performing for the amusement of others, when Tourette’s is no laughing matter for sufferers. Apparently, Tourette’s is quite a thing on TikTok, but are people laughing with them or at them? 

The programme succeeded on human interest grounds but was sorely lacking when it came to the science. Who gets Tourette’s and why? Is it genetic? Lauren said she had minor twitches from the age of 12 but developed coprolalia at 17 following a seizure brought on by donating blood. It was a failure of the documentary not to provide basic information or any input by medical professionals.

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