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The Portrayal of Tourette Syndrome in Film and Television

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2014

Samantha Calder-Sprackman
Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa
Stephanie Sutherland
Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa
Asif Doja*
Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa Division of Neurology, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, 401 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 8L1, Canada. Email:
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To determine the representation of Tourette Syndrome (TS) in fictional movies and television programs by investigating recurrent themes and depictions.


Television and film can be a source of information and misinformation about medical disorders. Tourette Syndrome has received attention in the popular media, but no studies have been done on the accuracy of the depiction of the disorder.


International internet movie databases were searched using the terms “Tourette’s”, “Tourette’s Syndrome”, and “tics” to generate all movies, shorts, and television programs featuring a character or scene with TS or a person imitating TS. Using a grounded theory approach, we identified the types of characters, tics, and co-morbidities depicted as well as the overall representation of TS.


Thirty-seven television programs and films were reviewed dating from 1976 to 2010. Fictional movies and television shows gave overall misrepresentations of TS. Coprolalia was overrepresented as a tic manifestation, characters were depicted having autism spectrum disorder symptoms rather than TS, and physicians were portrayed as unsympathetic and only focusing on medical therapies. School and family relationships were frequently depicted as being negatively impacted by TS, leading to poor quality of life.


Film and television are easily accessible resources for patients and the public that may influence their beliefs about TS. Physicians should be aware that TS is often inaccurately represented in television programs and film and acknowledge misrepresentations in order to counsel patients accordingly.

Original Article
Copyright © The Canadian Journal of Neurological 2014


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