Tourette Syndrome: Understanding Your Child’s Tics

Feb 01, 2024
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Does your child have a tic such as blinking their eyes rapidly or drumming their fingers repeatedly? If the movements seem involuntary and your child can’t stop them when they occur, your child should be evaluated for Tourette syndrome.

Does your child exhibit certain repetitive behaviors, or tics? At first, the behavior may not have been so noticeable, but now it’s inescapable. Maybe your loved one jerks their head a certain way or shrugs their shoulders for no reason and can’t seem to stop. Tics like these are the hallmark of a condition called Tourette syndrome. 

Board-certified pediatric neurologist Dr. Charles Niesen and our team at AMS Neurology in Pasadena, California, provide a diagnosis and compassionate treatment for children with Tourette syndrome. We also provide you with referrals and resources to help you and your child cope with this condition. 

What is Tourette syndrome? 

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes tics. Tics are muscle movements and/or sounds that occur suddenly, frequently, and repetitively. They’re involuntary. Your child may try to stop them and may be able to do so for a limited amount of time, but the tic resurfaces soon afterward. Your child may have motor and/or vocal tics. 

Motor tics 

If your child has one or more motor tics, you can see repetitive movements like the following: 

  • Rapid eye blinking or other eye movements
  • Twisting their face into a grimace 
  • Shrugging their shoulders 
  • Jerking their head or shoulder 

These are examples of simple motor tics involving one group of muscles. Complex tics involve more than one muscle group and may involve harmful behaviors, such as banging their head. 

Vocal tics 

Your child may have a vocal tic such as: 

  • Humming
  • Sniffing
  • Grunting
  • Clearing their throat

A complex vocal tic could entail echolalia, or repeating others’ words, or using swear words or words that aren’t acceptable in public. 

Why does my child have Tourette syndrome? 

Scientists aren’t sure what causes Tourette syndrome. It appears to have a neurochemical basis. Researchers think that parts of the brain involved with movement and thinking are involved and are examining the cortico-striatal-thalamo-cortical (CTSC) pathway. Genetics likely play a role because often tics and associated disorders appear to run in families. 

Do Tourette symptoms change with age?

Boys are at three times the risk for Tourettes than girls. You can explain to your child that their tics are likely to bother them less as they grow into adolescence and young adulthood.

Conditions associated with Tourette syndrome

About half of individuals with Tourette syndrome have ADHD. According to the International OCD Foundation, about 60% of people with Tourette syndrome also suffer from OCD. 

Treatment for Tourette syndrome 

Dr. Niesen provides medical treatment for your child with Tourette syndrome. If your child has a severe tic, we may recommend deep brain stimulation. 

Specific types of behavioral therapy can help your loved one, and we help facilitate it. We provide a report and specific recommendations for school support for your child based on their individual needs. For example, additional time on tests, computer accommodations, and seating in the classroom can be helpful for children with Tourette syndrome. 

We also provide you with training resources to help manage your child’s behavior. Helping your child find an interest, special skill, or hobby they love along with positive reinforcement goes a long way. The Tourette Syndrome Association also provides support groups and resources for parents. 

Call our office at AMS Neurology or book an appointment online today if your child has a tic and you suspect Tourette syndrome.