OPRAH AND DR. LAURA -
CONFLICTING MESSAGES ON TOURETTE SYNDROME
Bayside, NY, May 31, 2001—Barely one week after The Oprah Winfrey Show devoted an entire program to Tourette Syndrome (TS) which sensitively presented accurate information, radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger berated a recent caller who inquired about the appropriateness of excluding a young relative with TS from a family wedding.
Dr. Laura’s comments have since produced an avalanche of angry letters, emails and calls to the national office of the Tourette Syndrome Association as well as to Dr. Laura herself.
Oprah, in a full-hour program that raised awareness among millions of viewers, presented interviews with several people coping with varying degrees of TS. Dr. Laura declared that a majority of those with the condition exhibited the most objectionable symptom–coprolalia–and should be excluded from many social situations. Coprolalia, the uttering of socially inappropriate language, is one of the least typical symptoms of TS.
TS is an often misdiagnosed and frequently misunderstood, inherited neurobiological disorder marked by involuntary body twitching and vocal tics, affecting more than 200,000 Americans.
Dr. Laura’s advice to the caller on whether or not the youngster should be allowed to attend the wedding was less than sympathetic. "Well, I’m going to come to your party and just scream F-You, F-You, F-You every five seconds and see if you want to invite me back," she said. "...it is outrageous to call that a disability that should be tolerated at a wedding."
TSA is dismayed that Dr. Laura did not suggest a more creative way to deal with the caller’s dilemma. A constructive solution that would have allowed the youngster to participate, at least partially, in the event would have been far preferable to ostracizing the boy and his parents from his family’s celebration.
Noted TS expert Dr. Donald J. Cohen, Director of the Yale Child Study Center, believes that the radio host could have handled the issue much differently.
"It is possible to strike a balance between respecting the solemnity of the ceremony while at the same time making every effort to include this youngster in the family celebration," he said.
Compounding her initial insensitivity, Dr. Laura attempted a rebuttal to the backlash from families with TS who she admitted "disagreed vehemently with my opinion."
Unfortunately, despite Dr. Laura’s claim of consulting with experts to "check everything out," the textbook cited on-air that claims that "60 percent of people with TS have coprolalia" is nearly two decades old. Recent data confirm that those with this symptom are in the 10 to15 percent range.
"The dissemination of misinformation is something that TSA has battled since its founding nearly thirty years ago," said Judit Ungar, the executive director of the National Tourette Syndrome Association. "Comments such as Dr. Laura’s only serve to reinforce long-held stereotypes about TS. Moreover, her remarks are especially damaging because they tend to cause pain and encourage discrimination against the TS population in vital areas such as education, employment and social acceptance."
The Tourette Syndrome Association is a national voluntary organization with a three-pronged mission of education, research and service. TSA has a network of 50 chapters and 300 support groups throughout the USA. For more information on TS, call 1-888-4-TOURET or visit other sections of this website.
TSA Press Contact: Alan Krawitz, Communications Coordinator, 718-224-2999,ext.236