What Exactly is Tourette Syndrome?

March 18, 2020
Tourette Syndrome is a disorder that affects children and adolescents, causing them to display motor and vocal tics. Today's article will provide a deeper understanding of this syndrome.

Tourette syndrome is a disorder involving motor and verbal tics that appear during childhood. It causes minors to emit sudden movements and sounds that are repetitive and uncontrollable. This condition can affect a person’s quality of life. However, because of the way movies often depict this disorder, many have an incorrect image of what it really involves.

In general, films portray this as a condition where people shout out improprieties, curse words, and socially inappropriate comments (coprolalia). At the same time, movies show individuals producing involuntary obscene gestures (copropraxia). However, despite the wide public dissemination of these behaviors, they’re actually uncommon in Tourette’s.

You may also want to read: 5 Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

What exactly is Tourette syndrome?

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that appears during infancy or adolescence… before a person reaches the age of 18. In general, it shows up between the ages of five and nine, and the initial manifestations are facial tics. For example, blinking or scrunching of the nose.

Tics will vary over time, both in their type as well as in intensity and frequency. There are times of remission as well as times when the tics become more severe.

The tics that may appear are:

  • Motor: Sudden, repetitive, and uncontrollable movements involving different parts of the body.
  • Vocal: The involuntary emission of sounds and words in a brief and intermittent fashion.
What Exactly is Tourette Syndrome?

At the same time, both the motor tics as well as the vocal tics can be simple or complex.

  • Simple tics: Among simple tics are those that involve only one muscle group. For example, blinking or hunching one’s shoulders, or coughing or groaning in the case of vocal tics.
  • Complex tics: These involve various muscle groups and are more elaborate. For example, jumping, twisting, or touch a part of the body in the case of motor tics. It can also mean spouting insults or repeating one’s own words or those of others (echolalia) in the case of vocal tics.

All of these movements and expressions are involuntary and uncontrollable for children. What’s more, there tends to be a promontory impulse that precedes the tics. This refers to an uncomfortable body sensation (like an itch or a tickle, similar to what we experience before a sneeze). For those with Tourette’s, the only way to relieve this situation is with the tic.

By making a major effort, some minors are able to temporarily suppress their tics. However, when tension accumulates, they reappear.

Considerations to keep in mind

Approximately between 0.4 and 3.8% of minors are affected by this syndrome. Experts believe that a variety of factors play a role in causing this disorder, both genetic and environmental. It affects males three times more than females.

What’s more, other disorders and conditions can often coexist with Tourette syndrome. Particularly, attention issues (TDAH), behavioral problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Fortunately, the disorder tends to abate with age. In fact, very few cases continue to be serious beyond adolescence. At the same time, children tend to experience an increase in symptoms in those times when they feel tired, ill, or under stress.

What Exactly is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence of health, beyond the discomfort derived from the tics themselves. In general, these children have to face a huge lack of comprehension from others… which of course leads them to feel more anxious and ashamed. Therefore, it’s important for those around these children to be informed and be understanding.

Finally, we must remember that the appearance of tics during childhood isn’t always indicative of Tourette’s syndrome. In fact, tics are quite a frequent phenomenon in children. In general, they appear in a transient manner and resolve themselves fairly simply. Tourette’s is an uncommon condition and very few cases are very serious.

The treatment of Tourette’s syndrome

There’s no one pharmaceutical to combat this syndrome. Rather, there are various options available depending on each individual case. However, we’re talking about medications that can produce important side effects. Therefore, when tics aren’t incapacitating, it’s best not to medicate.

Regarding psychological treatment, research has shown that habit reversal therapy is effective in the reduction of symptoms. Relaxation techniques as well as the treatment of associated psychological conditions – like ADHD or OCD – can also bring about favorable results.

  • Gonzálvez, M. T. (2016). Tratamiento cognitivo-conductual de un niño con Síndrome de Tourette. Revista de Psicología Clínica con Niños y Adolescentes3(1), 25-30.
  • Jankovic, J. (2002). Síndrome de Gilles de la Tourette. Lancet (Oncol)3, 111-117.