Could Your Child Have Tourette Syndrome?

Tics are common in childhood. Does your child blink his eyes, wave his arms or jerk his head repeatedly? When these behaviors continue for long periods of time and occur in conjunction with other repetitive verbal and physical patterns, they may be signs of a condition called Tourette Syndrome.

The Facts about Tourette Syndrome
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes people to perform a series of involuntary movements or sounds. The symptoms often appears in children between the ages of 7 and 10 and peak during the early teenage years, with males more likely to be affected. Often the condition will improve or even resolve on its own by adulthood.

Tourette Syndrome Symptoms
While many people associate this ailment with the stereotyped image of someone who uncontrollably shouts strings of derogatory words in public, in reality most children with Tourette Syndrome have much milder symptoms.

Here's a list of possible verbal and motor tics. Usually several of these, or other similar behaviors, will occur in a child with this condition:

  • Throat clearing
  • Grunting
  • Sniffing
  • Blinking
  • Grimacing
  • Shrugging
  • Head jerking
  • Jumping

These symptoms can also occur or co-occur with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Getting a Diagnosis
If you notice your child repeatedly performing any of these behaviors, you'll want to see your pediatrician. Usually multiple symptoms must exist for at least a year and other ailments need to be ruled out before most doctors will make a formal diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome. There's no test to confirm this diagnosis, so your doctor will need to piece together the clues.

What Else You Can Do
You should keep track of the tics and when, where, and how they occur, since patterns can help to identify what's happening. You'll also want to learn about the condition to understand what your child may be going through and determine how best to support him. Tourette Syndrome doesn't affect your child's intelligence or physical health in any way, but it can make social and academic situations much more difficult.

If your child is struggling to keep up in school because the tics are distracting him, you may consider exploring alternative settings where he might do better. You can also engage him in hobbies or sports that may help refocus his attention in a more positive way. Connecting with a local support group can help you and your child to cope with the situation.

Often children with Tourette Syndrome won't need treatment, but if the tics interfere with his daily activities, your doctor may prescribe medication to help minimize the symptoms until they ease up on their own.

American Academy of Family Physicians Nemours

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes

Tourette Syndrome Association