Ask Dr. Ticcy: Do kids with Tourette understand sarcasm?

Dr. Ticcy is a pseudonym for the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada National Office, which draws on information from experts across Canada and beyond to answer questions from the TS community. Please send your questions to admin@tourette.ca with the salutation “Dear Dr. Ticcy.”

To Dr. Ticcy:

I’ve read that kids with TS can have trouble understanding sarcasm. Is this true?



Dear T.J.

You ask an interesting question.

Research has found that it can be hard for adults with TS to understand what people mean when they aren’t literal. A recent study examined whether this applies to children as well.

To test whether the children involved in the study understood sarcasm, the researchers presented them with three different kinds of scenarios.

The first kind of scenario ended with a literal or sincere remark. The second kind ended with a sarcastic remark that could be understood simply by reversing the meaning of the remark. An example of this kind of remark would be “Having Tourette is always really easy” (the truth is the reverse – it is not always easy). The final type of scenario ended with sarcasm that wasn’t straight forward. In other words, this remark couldn’t be understood just by reversing the meaning of the comment.

Kids with TS scored the same as those without TS on interpreting direct or sincere comments and they scored better when it came to direct sarcasm (where they could reverse the meaning of the comment). When it came to interpreting indirect sarcastic remarks, they scored below the children without TS. The most common type of error that children with Tourette made was to interpret the sarcastic comment literally, even though it was not meant to be sincere.

The authors concluded that children with TS may have some difficulty understanding sarcasm, however, this difficulty is fairly subtle.

What do you think?

Do you know of children with TS who have a hard time with sarcasm?

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