Tics and Tourette Syndrome

What is it?

Tourette syndrome is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by uncontrolled, brief repetitive muscle movements and vocalizations called tics.

What are the symptoms of Tourette syndrome?

The symptoms typically begin at the age of 5. Two types of tics are associated with Tourette syndrome:

  1. Motor tics:  sudden, uncontrollable muscle movements such as eye blinking, nose twitching, grimacing, head jerking, clapping, shoulder shrugging or arm/hand movements
  2. Vocal tics: throat clearing, coughing, whistling, squeaking, sniffing, humming or repeating sounds or phrases

When a child is under stress, the tics can become more severe, frequent, or extended. The type of tic may also change.

Children who have tics or Tourette may also be diagnosed with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What can be done?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of behavioural therapy that teaches a person to recognize behaviour and helps them change how they behave. It can help children with tics learn to identify situations that cause or exacerbate tics and find ways to change them.

Medications are available that can help suppress tics.

What makes some children more vulnerable to Tourette syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a genetic disorder that happens during fetal development. Environmental factors may contribute to or modulate the severity of symptoms, especially during childhood.

Where can I access support?

Caregivers should always share behavioural observations such as tics with the child’s family doctor or pediatrician. They can further evaluate to determine if the symptom is a tic and if it is caused by a medical condition, medication or drug, or occurring on their own. Tourette syndrome can be diagnosed by family doctors, pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

Talk to the child’s guardianship worker and share your behavioural observations. Tell them if the tics are causing significant distress, impairment or if you think it is related to other mental health concerns. Explore what options are available for assessment so their diagnosis and treatment plan can be included in their Care Plan. The guardianship worker will help make appropriate referrals for specialized supports and services.

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