Dr Laura on Tourette Syndrome

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Last Update 10/08/07

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In May of 2001, Dr. Laura became the most infamous example of myth, misinformation, intolerance and misunderstanding of the symptoms of Tourette syndrome and people with Tourette's, when she broadcasted wildly inaccurate information about the condition.  Presented with the opportunity to correct the misinformation on air a few days later, and having had time to research the condition, she disseminated even more misinformation about Tourette's syndrome.

November 10, 2004 update.

 Dr. Laura herself never formally apologized for the misinformation she disseminated about Tourette's on her May, 2001 shows, or fully retracted her inaccurate information about Tourette's Syndrome. 

Listeners recorded these transcripts of the shows from the audio links on the "Dr. Laura" website.  What she actually said is easily verified.  In a recent e-mail, her attempt to rewrite history has become part of her history of intolerance, double standards, and moral and spiritual confusion.

The semi-apology (which came allegedly via an unverified spokesperson, but never publicly from her) didn't seem to have her support, rather gave the impression that it was orchestrated by her producers for publicity reasons.   The recent e-mail, allegedly authored by Dr Laura, appears to confirm that suspicion.  The author states, "As usual with 'special interest groups,' I am misrepresented  ..." and then seems to attempt to rewrite history by stating that her response was "simply point(ing) out personal responsibility, compassion and respect for the realities of other people."  Once again, rather than following her own advice (accepting personal responsibility for her mistaken information about Tourette's or apologizing directly for it), she assumes the "victim" role, stating, "That this simple, common sense, compassionate concept got twisted the ugly way it did....is the main problem with our society today."   November 10, 2004 e-mail allegedly authored by Laura Schlessinger,

It seems that, many years later, we're still waiting for Dr. Laura Schlessinger to "do the right thing."

On the May 22, 2001 "Dr Laura" show, the host, Laura Schlessinger, PhD, received a call from "Michelle," who had a dilemma because her sister wanted to exclude her own nephew with Tourette's from a family wedding celebration.  Initially, Dr Laura insisted to Michelle that she should basically stay out of it  -- "have no opinion."  But, once Dr Laura heard that the child had Tourette Syndrome, she completely reversed herself and stated that Michelle had "picked the wrong sister" to support.  One of her justifications was, "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."   "Dr Laura" assumed the child had coprolalia, when none had been mentioned, and appeared to believe that coprolalia was a common part of the condition.

This insensitive response, contradictory to the "Dr Laura" show's professed family values, resulted in discussions throughout the internet and  "a *lot*" of letters to the "Dr Laura" show from persons with Tourette syndrome.  Her response was in direct contradiction to her first position that the caller should not take sides, and to her statements about the importance of family in weddings in the June issue of her Perspective Magazine, which said:

But the fact is that it takes MORE than a ring and a date to make a marriage work. 

1. Remember the sacramental significance of the wedding.   ... This is not a party. ...  Focus on the fact that your wedding day is the first day of a new family's life: the life of the family that you are creating in unison with your spouse.  

Dr. Laura's ''Is it Love?'' Test ... Take the test and you'll quickly know whether your relationship has a good chance of growing into a long-lasting relationship, and maybe even marriage.
4. Do you appreciate and enjoy each other's family and friends? 

On May 25th, the host had the opportunity to re-address this topic, and managed to mangle things even further.  She stood by the position she had taken of excluding a 12-year-old boy with Tourette's from his own aunt's wedding, stated that the mother of the boy was the one without feelings, and went on to broadcast damaging, inaccurate, outdated information about coprolalia and the pharmacological treatment of TS as justification for her response, in spite of having numerous sources of more accurate information provided to her via those faxes.  She claimed to have done this research on Tourette's in her capacity "as a scientist" (although her degree is in physiology, and not in medicine, psychology or psychiatry), but she based her statements on 20-year old data from an outdated textbook.  

The second discussion of Tourette's, where she dispensed outdated and inaccurate information about Tourette's syndrome "as a scientist," after she was provided with accurate information about the condition, warranted a full boycott of her sponsors and advertisers. 

Complaints should be faxed to the "Dr Laura" show (Fax: 818-461-5140), and should be no longer than one page.  A more effective means of making your position known is to write to her sponsors and advertisers, indicating that you will not support any company who sponsors this show.  Addresses, e-mails, and fax numbers are listed here.   You can further help by locating and posting to this board the contact info for any local sponsors of the "Dr Laura" radio show.

Your children with Tourette's syndrome might want to send her an essay titled,  "Growing Up With TS Is Hard," as she just made it harder.  

This campaign will continue until/unless Dr. Laura "goes and does the right thing," by taking action to correct the damage done; for example:

1.  Retract the inaccurate information broadcast about coprolalia and correct the misperceptions about the use of Haldol for treatment of Tourette's, or

2.  Apologize to the community of persons with Tourette syndrome for her irresponsible statements about the condition and for taking sides against a child with an involuntary, medical, neurological condition, rather than sticking to her stated position that the sister should remain neutral, or

3.  Broadcast accurate information about the condition to counteract the perceptions she has created to potentially 20 million listeners, which can result in misdiagnosis of those who may now believe that coprolalia is a prominent feature of the condition or that it is easily treated with medication.

On May 31st, the National Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) responded to the "Dr Laura" misinformation with a press release. 

Following the launch of the boycott and the TSA press release, the host made statements on the air partially retracting only one of her previous erroneous statements.  She acknowledged that coprolalia was present in only 10 to 15 percent of persons with TS, and agreed that an arrangement to try to allow the child to be present at the wedding would be a good compromise.  Her characterization in that statement of the original conversations doesn't seem to match the recorded transcript.  She corrected the misinformation about coprolalia, but she never directly apologized or admitted she had been mistaken about 1) treatment success with haloperidol, 2) behavioral interventions in children with tics, or 3) the idea of excluding family members from family events because of medical conditions.  

A Premiere Radio spokesperson posted an apology, allegedly on her behalf to an internet bulletin board.  The statement read on the air was added to the drlaura.com website, but it did not include the apology, such as the one that was posted by a Premiere Radio spokesperson to an internet bulletin board.   Dr. Laura was provided with the opportunity to authenticate and validate this apology by 1) adding it to her website, 2) making the same statement on-air, or 3) sending it on letterhead with her signature to the Tourette Syndrome Association.  She has not done that, so we can only conclude that the "apology" extended via a spokesperson on a message board was not a valid reflection of "Dr Laura's" personal intent or sympathy; rather a statement generated by her producers to appease the internet community who had launched the boycott.   The apology has not been authenticated.

Press/Internet Coverage:

Wired Women

LARadio/Psychology Today articles

Star Magazine

Tourette's Syndrome Message Boards with archives of the entire Dr. Laura incident

My first letter (May 24th):

            Tourette's syndrome is a neurological condition of multiple, changing, repetitive, involuntary motor and vocal tics.  Its most typical onset is at the age of five, with increasing symptoms between the ages of 8 and 12, and a high likelihood of remission or improvement of tics after adolescence.  There is no medication targeted specifically at treating TS or that works universally to “control” it, and the side effects of the available drugs are often worse than the tics.  Children have limited success in learning to “manage” their tics through modifications.  Hence, children at their most vulnerable developmental stages are often passing through their most difficult years of coping with a baffling and stigmatizing condition, complicated by myth, misperception, and judgment from an uncomprehending society.  Negotiating childhood can be very difficult for children with TS, although the majority of persons with TS go on to lead normal and productive lives.  “Dr Laura’s” radio show on May 22nd added to the already heavy burden carried by children with these involuntary movements and vocalizations. 

            A very small percentage of persons with TS have coprolalia – the involuntary utterances of socially inappropriate phrases.  “Dr Laura” never established on air that the child in question actually had coprolalia; rather, she appeared to assume that he did.  While that may reflect her lack of understanding of the condition, whatever his tics are, they are involuntary and warrant acceptance from his immediate family EVEN IF he has coprolalia.  “Dr Laura” seems to believe that he should be able to establish some “control” over tics.  Barring that “control,” she casually tosses family values right out the window when the bride perceives one member of the family as flawed with a medical condition that might mar her day.  What kind of family will this bride be starting, since TS is genetic, and she is unable to accept her own nephew with humor and grace? 

            “Dr Laura” repeatedly tells Michelle, the caller, that “she has no opinion,” or she will “alienate one of her sisters.”  Then DL switches gears and contradicts herself when she expresses a strong opinion, sides with one sister against an innocent child, and tells Michelle that, “you picked the wrong sister.”  She refers to “the definition of a family,” and yet condones ostracizing the bride’s nephew because that child doesn't meet the selfish bride's expectations.  It sounds like DL has an issue with TS.  She refers to, “coming to your party and screaming F-You,” but overlooks that a wedding is more than just a party:  it’s a family event, and the child in question is a nephew of the bride.  She says that, “there are certain things you cannot participate in,” but one wonders what value DL places on the “family” in family events.  A family member’s wedding is not the “Bolshoi Ballet.” 

            “Dr Laura” equates Tourette’s with tuberculosis, a crippling and contagious disease.  The only “disease” this child lives with is the ignorance and lack of compassion from society.  She calls his tic behaviors “not normal,” “not nice,” and “inappropriate no matter what’s engendering it.”  Tics are not willful behaviors:  they are involuntary movements resulting from a neurological condition.  Rather than compare it to TB, DL might have asked if the bride also planned to exclude everyone wearing eyeglasses, so her wedding photographs wouldn’t be marred.  If DL will have anyone with unusual behaviors excluded from weddings, Loopy Uncle Louie is going to be staying home more often.  Surely, this family realizes one of their members has an involuntary, neurological condition and guests at the wedding will know what it is about, or have an opportunity to learn.  Invoking the notion of him “swearing” in church was a cheap shot by DL. 

            Henceforth, I will boycott all corporations, advertisers, carriers, and sponsors of “Dr Laura” shows or website, until or unless she apologizes to persons with Tourette’s for this outrageous display of her lack of knowledge, compassion, sensitivity, and family values. 

My second letter (May 26th): 

            On May 22nd, the “Dr Laura” show advocated that a sister take sides against her other sister, who has a son with Tourette syndrome, and join her third sister, a bride, in supporting the exclusion of their 12-year-old nephew with Tourette syndrome from the family wedding.  On May 25th, the “Dr Laura” show included a response to the protests lodged against the original show. 

             While the original show was merely insensitive (similar to an older segment about a child with autism), the second (May 25th) show took the situation to a new low, when the host broadcast outdated, inaccurate information about Tourette’s syndrome.

            The host used an outdated medical textbook, did not verify that her sources were accurate or up-to-date, and did not give important qualifiers explaining the data she was using; all the while professing to be exercising her abilities as “a scientist.”  Addressing the inaccurate things she said on the air:

             1.  Yes, behavioral techniques have been successfully employed in some persons with Tourette’s.  However, they are less than successful with children, who are not always able to “manage” their tics behaviorally.  They are, however, able to choose a seat near a door or exit.

             2.  Tourette’s syndrome is not a “disease:”  it is a syndrome or a condition.

             3.  Up to 60% of patients referred to specialty, tertiary clinics may have coprolalia (Singer C., Neurol Clin. 1997 May), based on older data and literature.  However, the vast majority of persons with Tourette’s never come to specialty (tertiary) clinical attention (Mason A, Banerjee S, Eapen V, Zeitlin H, Robertson MM. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1998 May), and the number more often quoted for the overall population of persons with TS is 8% (Singer) to 14% (Freeman RD, et al, Dev Med Child Neurol. 2000 Jul).  The host was misleading or misinformed or unaware of how to read medical literature when she stated that coprolalia occurs in 60% of persons with Tourette’s.  This information is blatantly wrong.

             4.  The host stated that, “there is a 90% reduction in the symptoms … (with) haloperidol” (Haldol).  Haldol is an older drug that is no longer a mainstay of TS treatment because of its very high side effect profile.  It is more commonly used as a medication of last resort.  At high doses, with high side effects, it may reduce tics to this level, but no knowledgeable physician would medicate a patient’s tics to that level:  when you’re dead, you can get a 100% reduction in tics, but that is not the goal.  Furthermore, she misinterprets the data:  a 90% reduction in tics does *not* mean that Haldol works for 90% of people.  No medication works for all persons with TS. 

            The host neglected to consider other and very manageable options to help bring this family together rather than further divide them; such as simply providing a seat near a door or exit to the child, sparing him a possible lifetime psychological scar at the expense of his selfish aunt.

             The host is “bemused” by the responses she has gotten.  The solution to her dilemma of “cautionary bemusement” is simple:  retract the inaccurate information; learn about Tourette’s and correct the incorrect info broadcast with updated information; and consider the damage her advice will result in to one small, innocent child with a neurological condition that he will most likely outgrow, hopefully with as few scars as possible because of ignorance spread by irresponsible talk show hosts.  It’s just that simple.  Until such time, I will boycott all “Dr Laura” sponsors.  

And what is with these "Dr" talk shows ??  Dr. Phil on Tourette's

Tin Gods:  Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura

(Just a note:  this website was designed for newcomers to Tourette's syndrome, to be read through in page order. 
You can browse the pages in the order you desire, but if you're new to Tourette syndrome,
you may get a better overview by reading through the pages in order, by clicking on the Next Page links throughout.)

  Strengths and advantages associated with Tourette's syndrome
Medical literature supports the common lore that children with Tourette syndrome have uncommon gifts.

Growing up with Tourette's Syndrome:  Information for Kids
A new website about Tourette syndrome, with information targeted to ages 5–8, ages 9–13, and a section for parents.

HBO Documentary on Tourette's Syndrome   
I Have Tourette's but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me
Video clips of Tourette's syndrome HBO Documentary

First Five Things to Do After Your Child Is Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome
I may not agree with all of them, but # 1 is interesting.

 Tourette Syndrome Research Article Summary

  Controversy, myth, and inaccurate information about Tourette syndrome
 Dr. Phil on Tourette's syndrome and Asperger's syndrome:  "Extreme Disorders" and brain imaging 
  Dr. Laura Schlessinger on Tourette's  
David Comings, M.D. - Hope Press - The Gene Bomb

Inaccurate definition of Tourette's Syndrome by Joseph Jankovic, M.D. in the New England Journal of Medicine
Deep Brain Stimulation, Tourette's Syndrome, and "Miracle Workers"
Disclaimer - Just a Mom !
I am not a medical person and am not qualified to give medical advice.
Please discuss your treatment with your personal physician.
PLEASE NOTE:  I am NOT affiliated with another Tourette's website which uses the tourettenowwhat name!
(Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?  Or another webmaster trick to derive traffic from my name?)

A word about spelling

The official name of the condition, according to the DSM-IV-TR, 307.23, is Tourette's disorder. 
Tourette's is also referred to as TS, Tourette Syndrome, Tourette's syndrome, GTS, and Gilles de la Tourette's Syndrome.
Common misspellings are tourettes syndrome, tourretts, tourrettes, touretts, terrets, terets, turettes, turetts, turets, turetes and turrets syndrom.
Tourette's disease is a common misnomer (it's not a disease).
Tick is a common misspelling:  ticks are nasty critters that suck blood from dogs and people.  People with Tourette's disorder have tics.

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Dr. Laura on Tourette's Syndrome    |   David E. Comings, Tourette's and Hope Press     |    NEJM - Jankovic article on Tourette's Syndrome

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