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“I’m not being rude, I’d want somebody normal”: Adolescents’ Perception of their Peers with Tourette’s Syndrome: an Exploratory Study

Malli, MA and Forrester-Jones, R (2016) “I’m not being rude, I’d want somebody normal”: Adolescents’ Perception of their Peers with Tourette’s Syndrome: an Exploratory Study. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 29 (2). pp. 279-305. ISSN 1056-263X

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Abstract

Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a highly stigmatised condition, and typically developing adolescents’ motives and reasons for excluding individuals with TS have not been examined. The aim of the study was to understand how TS is conceptualised by adolescents and explore how individuals with TS are perceived by their typically developing peers. Free text writing and focus groups were used to elicit the views of twenty-two year ten students from a secondary school in South East England. Grounded theory was used to develop an analytical framework. Participants’ understanding about the condition was construed from misconceptions, unfamiliarity and unanswered questions. Adolescents who conceived TS as a condition beyond the individual’s control perceived their peers as being deprived of agency and strength and as straying from the boundaries of normalcy. People with TS were viewed as individuals deserving pity, and in need of support. Although participants maintained they had feelings of social politeness towards those with TS, they would avoid initiating meaningful social relationships with them due to fear of ‘social contamination’. Intergroup anxiety would also inhibit a close degree of social contact. Participants that viewed those with TS as responsible for their condition expressed a plenary desire for social distance. However, these behavioural intentions were not limited to adolescents that elicited inferences of responsibility to people with TS, indicating that attributional models of stigmatisation may be of secondary importance in the case of TS. Implications for interventions to improve school belonging among youth with TS are discussed.

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