Tourette's Isn't Funny, Bart Simpson -- Renton Boy Seeks Network Apology

Why Bart Simpson, why?

You of all characters know what it's like to be misunderstood. You're a bad kid. But you have a good heart.

When you mimicked symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome on a recent episode of "The Simpsons," Joshua Smith, 13, switched off the television in his Renton home. Smith has Tourette's Syndrome.

Sometimes he makes noises or movements he cannot control. It's not funny, Bart.

Tourette's Syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects speech and motor skills. It is characterized by frequent, involuntary profanity in about a third of the cases, but not Smith's.

Smith counted you among the few friends he had, Bart. Now he refuses to watch your show. He draws cartoons depicting how you hurt him. Smith wants you to apologize.

The day after the Nov. 5 episode aired, Smith and his mother, Donna Smith, sent letters to creator Matt Groening and Mike Reiss, executive director for the popular animated show. Reiss apologized, sent Smith some show souvenirs and agreed to remove the portion where Bart mimicked Tourette's.

"It is unprecedented in our show, but we decided to change that animation," said Antonia Coffman, Fox Broadcasting spokesperson. "We agreed it was inappropriate."

But the network cannot erase the image in Smith's mind, or in the minds of the millions who saw the show, Donna Smith said.

In the episode, Bart barked a couple of times and jerked his head, symptoms - called "tics" - associated with the syndrome. Bart was in class, and the teacher in the cartoon said Bart's "unfortunate bout with Tourette's Syndrome," was just another excuse to avoid taking the test. "No more excuses," the teacher tells Bart as she slaps down his test.

Smith skipped school the Friday after the show aired, and the next Monday too. He feared classmates would resume past ridicule after watching the show.

Smith wants Fox Broadcasting to make Bart, in a future show, say he was wrong.

"I want them to not repeat the episode and to have Bart Simpson befriend somebody with Tourette's on the show," Smith said plaintively. "And I want them to have Bart apologize at the end of the show."

Smith is working extra chores to pay a $200 retainer for an attorney to bring the case to Fox Broadcasting in Los Angeles. Barbara Ridgeway, Smith's attorney, mailed a letter to Reiss on Friday detailing Smith's additional demands.

"There are a lot of adult people who would not pursue their rights like Josh is doing," said Ridgeway. "He's intent on making this right."

The incident pits the network's constitutional right to free speech against Smith's right to be free from discrimination, Ridgeway said. Ridgeway says the episode probably does not technically violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in employment and public access. But it breaches the intent of the law, she said.

Smith, a shy boy, has a moderate case, and his vocal tics have been concentrated in sounds, such as involuntary bird calls, his mother said. Children with Tourette's are often of above-average intelligence, but half, like Smith, also have learning disorders, trouble with simple motor skills and are easily distracted.

Bart's behavior reinforces the notion that people with Tourette's Syndrome should just control themselves, said Donna Smith. Specialists say many people with the disorder can control the tics for a while, but will eventually have to let them out.

Television shows such as "The Simpsons" and an "L.A. Law" episode last year usually depict the most severe symptoms, Donna Smith said. But the severity of the condition varies, and symptoms can be reduced with medication. Tourette's affects more than 100,000 people nationwide, up to eight times as many boys as girls.

For people who live with Tourette's, struggling to control the tics, exacerbated by stress, can be the day's toughest task. Smith hasn't attended school since December because he's waiting for placement in a less-stressful and distracting educational environment.

"When they go to school they have one thing in mind: `I want to get through the day without anybody seeing that I have a tic,' " Donna Smith said. "(Fox) can say they are sorry, but what about all the kids who saw the show? They cannot take that back. Josh wants to educate people to understand what Tourette's is."

Bart, have a heart.