Brad Cohen, a young man with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), dreams of a career in teaching. But, as a child, kids teased him and adults scolded him for his outbursts and tics. Despite the poor understanding of his condition by most and his father’s lack of acceptance Brad is determined to be a teacher. When he gets a chance to be a second grade teacher he can finally teach others about TS and show he’s got what it takes to be teacher of the year. Based on a true story.
In flashbacks throughout the film, Front of the Class highlights a number of tic-related school problems. In one case, Brad is sent out of a test when his motor tics become severe.
While academic interference is a serious problem for children with severe cases of Tourette’s, or Tourette’s with related conditions, children like Brad, with more mild, simple tics, have more problems with social rejection. Brad faced significant social rejection both in school and when he began dating, as he got older. Children with tic disorders have higher rates of peer problems and are more likely to be considered significantly less socially acceptable by their peers. Children with Tourette’s frequently report self-consciousness, discomfort in social situations, and shame. Because they may have fewer opportunities to socialize with peers, they can display deficits in social abilities (Friedrich, Morgan, & Devine, 1994). Despite the rejection Brad endured, he functioned normally socially and remained rather gregarious throughout the film. Children with Tourette’s are also at an increased risk for school avoidance (refusal to go to school), due to social and academic problems (Plapp, 1990). Recent studies have shown that peer rejection is not solely related to tic severity, as only 19% of children who experienced social rejection or bullying reported improvement when their tics remitted (Packer, 2005). In the film, Brad and his principal educate his peers and teachers about his tics, which improves his social and academic situation.
Brad, as an adult, faces many obstacles in his pursuit of a teaching career, and these problems are commonly reflected in the experiences of other people with Tourette’s Syndrome. In a survey of Canadian adults with Tourette’s, 20.7% reported being fired due to their Tourette’s, 16.8% reported being denied a job altogether, and 14.4% believed that they had been denied promotions or raises because of their Tourette’s (Shady, Broder, Staley, Furer, & Papadopolos, 1995). Additionally, 48% said that Tourette’s had an impact on their job choice, and only 31% said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, compared to 56% of the general population. Despite the odds, Brad demonstrated great perseverance in achieving his professional goals.
The problems encountered by schoolchildren with Tourette’s typically carry over into adulthood; social issues can persist, deficits in academic functioning may remain, and neurotypical adults also hold stigmas against tic disorders. In the film, Brad has many negative experiences while searching for a job. One of his interviewers assumes that TS always includes coprolalia, which is only present in about 10% of the Tourette’s population, and questions his ability to be appropriate in a classroom. Many people who interview him for jobs do not believe that he can teach and hold the respect of a class with his tics. He frequently has to remind employers that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects him against discrimination based on his Tourette’s, but he is still frequently rejected from positions without due consideration of his abilities. Even after he is finally hired as a teacher, a parent withdraws his daughter from Brad’s class because the parent questions Brad’s abilities. Brad exhibits exceptional teaching ability once he is allowed to teach a class, but the problems he encounters are not uncommon for people with Tourette’s Syndrome. This particular challenge that Brad faces, having his abilities questioned in the workplace, is not unique to Tourette’s. Brad however, despite his disadvantage, accepts this reality and continues to do what he loves.
Overall, the film portrayed a highly accurate depiction of a person going through life with Tourette’s Syndrome. Typical challenges are presented along with common mainstream reactions in response to the disorder. This family friendly film is appropriate for all ages to watch and serves as an excellent educational resource.
Friedrich, S., Morgan, S.B., & Devine, C. (1994). Children’s attitudes and behavioral intentions toward a peer with Tourette Syndrome. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 21(3), 307-319.
Packer, L.E. (2005). Tic-related school problems: impact on functioning, accommodations, and interventions. Behavior Modification, 29(6), 876-899.
Plapp, J.M. (1990, January). Tourettes and School Refusal [Letter to the editor]. Journal of American Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 29(1), 149-150.
Pollak, Y., Benarroch, F., Kanengisser, L., Shilon, Y., Ben-Pazi, H., Shalev, R. S., & Gross-Tsur, V. (2009). Tourette syndrome-associated psychopathology: Roles of comorbid attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 30(5), 413-419.
Shady, G., Broder, R., Staley, D., Furer, P., & Papadopolos, R. B. (1995). Tourette Syndrome and employment: descriptors, predictors, and problems. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 19(1), 35-42.