Tourette Disorder in Children

What is Tourette disorder in children?

Tourette disorder (TD) is a
neurological disorder. It is also called Tourette syndrome (TS). The disorder causes
repeated tics. Tics are sudden, uncontrolled vocal sounds or muscle jerks. Symptoms of
TD often start between ages 5 and 10. They usually start with mild, simple tics of the
face, head, or arms. Over time, a child may have different kinds of tics that may happen
more often. They may also involve more parts of the body, such as the trunk or legs.
And they may be more disruptive to daily life.

What causes Tourette disorder in a child?

Most cases of Tourette disorder are caused by genes. It is an autosomal dominant disorder. Autosomal means that both boys and girls are affected. Dominant means that only 1 copy of the gene is needed to have the condition. A parent with TD or the gene for TD has a 1 in 2 chance to pass the gene on to each child.

In up to 1 in 20 children with TD, the disorder is not caused by genes. Possible causes in these cases may be problems during pregnancy, low birth weight, head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

Which children are at risk for Tourette disorder?

TD affects more boys than girls.

What are the symptoms of Tourette disorder in a child?

The most common symptoms are uncontrolled muscle movements. They may occur in the face, neck, shoulders, torso, or hands. Examples include:

  • Head jerking
  • Squinting
  • Blinking
  • Shrugging
  • Grimacing
  • Nose-twitching
  • Repeated foot tapping, leg jerking, scratching, or other movements

Complex tics include:

  • Kissing
  • Pinching
  • Sticking out the tongue or lip-smacking
  • Touching behaviors
  • Making rude gestures

TD also includes one or more vocal tics such as:

  • Grunting or moaning sounds
  • Barking
  • Tongue clicking
  • Sniffing
  • Hooting
  • Saying rude things
  • Throat clearing, snorting, or coughing
  • Squeaking noises
  • Hissing
  • Spitting
  • Whistling
  • Gurgling
  • Echoing sounds or phrases repeatedly

Tic behaviors change over time. They also vary in how often they occur.

TD can occur differently in boys
and girls. Boys are more likely to have long-term (chronic) tics. Girls are more likely
to have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is an anxiety disorder. With OCD, a
child has a repeated thought, fear, or worry (obsession) that he or she tries to manage
through a certain behavior (compulsion) to reduce the anxiety.

Not everyone with the gene will have symptoms of Tourette disorder. If a parent passes the gene to a child, the child may not have any symptoms. If a daughter inherits the gene, there is a 7 in 10 chance that she will have at least one sign of TD. If a son inherits the gene, there is an almost sure chance (99%) chance that he will have at least one sign of TD.

The symptoms of TD can seem like
other health conditions. Have your child see his or her healthcare provider for a

How is Tourette disorder diagnosed in a child?

A child with TD is usually diagnosed around the age of 7. A primary care provider, pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or a mental healthcare provider may diagnose your child. The healthcare provider will ask about:

  • Your child’s symptoms and health history
  • Your family’s health history
  • Developmental problems

The healthcare provider will also:

  • Watch your child’s behavior
  • Ask for a history of your child’s behavior from teachers
  • Assess your child’s psychological, social, and educational status