Tourette’s Disorder

What is it?

Tourette’s disorder is a neurological condition characterized by involuntary movements and sounds called “tics.”  Tics are sudden, rapid, recurrent, nonrhythmic movements or vocalizations. Children may have different tics, for example: blinking, twitching, barking, throat clearing, coughing, or repeating words.  Some people with the disorder have profane outbursts (this particular tic is rare).

Signs and Symptoms

Children with Tourette’s disorder usually begin exhibiting tics around ages 7 to 10; the tics peak during adolescence. For many children, symptoms diminish or disappear in early adulthood. Motor tics, such as blinking and twitching of the face, head, neck, and/or shoulders, often occur before vocal tics. Not all tics indicate Tourette’s; unless a child has both motor and vocal tics, he doesn’t have the disorder.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To be diagnosed with Tourette’s, a child must have both motor and vocal tics which have persisted for at least a year. These tics occur regularly. Only people under age 18 are diagnosed with Tourette’s.

Tourette’s disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated through a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. Children can sometimes learn to suppress their tics through habit reversal therapy; they recognize their individual tics and perform actions that are incompatible with them each time the tic is anticipated. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help children learn to cope with their Tourette’s syndrome as well as any co-existing disorders. Peers and teachers can also be educated about the disorder so they can provide caring support.

Medications may be prescribed to help control the symptoms of Tourette’s disorder. A doctor may prescribe neuroleptic medications, which appear to help control tics by blocking the brain’s dopamine neurotransmitters.

What are the risk factors for children?

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with Tourette’s than girls. There may be a genetic link to tic disorders; children with a family history of the disorder are more likely to develop them. Many children with Tourette’s disorder also have other psychiatric disorders, in particular ADHD and OCD.