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Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that can cause sudden and repetitive tics and vocal sounds.

Tourette Syndrome Symptoms

Imagine seeing someone make sudden repetitive movements, or out of the blue a person gives out vocal sounds, like involuntary hiccups and sniffing. You may ask, “Why can’t it be controlled?” Many people could be shocked, confused, or even disturbed. This unusual body condition is what medical practitioners call Tourette syndrome (TS). In this article, we are going to take a look at Tourette syndrome symptoms in children and how it can be treated and managed.

People with TS are aware of their symptoms, but they cannot control their movement, speech, and sound produced by the vocal cords. This nervous system disorder causes people to have tics that show repeated, sudden, involuntary muscle movements or vocalizations, which develops in children under 18 years old.

Tics Defined

Tics are classified as motor tics (movements of the limbs and other body parts) and vocal tics (unintentional distinct sounds). As observed, simple tics involve brief patterns, like eye blinking, squinting, head jerking, nose twitching, lip biting, facial grimacing, and shoulder shrugging. Other recognizable signs include grunting, coughing, throat clearing, barking, and hissing.

For people who are directly involved with those afflicted by this health issue, it would be best to know the progressive signs.

Complex motor tics:

  • Touching or smelling objects
  • Repeating observed movements
  • Stepping in a certain pattern
  • Obscene gesturing
  • Bending or twisting
  • Hopping
  • Excessive repeated movements
  • Mimicking movements by others

Complex vocal tics:

  • Repeating words and phrases
  • Repeating other peoples’ words and phrases
  • Using vulgar language
  • Hissing
  • Calling out
  • Yelling

Simple tics are easily identified as a very brief movement or vocalization with no meaning, while complex tics are noticeable gestures or words that are seemingly intentional but involuntary.

How Does Tourette Syndrome Affect Children?

Tics range from mild to severe that might interfere with communication, activities of daily living, and quality of life. Keep in mind that:

  • The type of tic varies over time
  • How frequent tics occur also may change
  • Tics often come and go and can worsen if a person is stressed
  • Most tics are short-lived. They stay within three months at a time
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Tics and Childhood

The early symptoms of tics in TS usually show up before 18 years of age (typically between 4 years and 6 years of age). They usually begin with mild, simple tics involving the face, head, or arms, such as eye blinking, throat clearing, facial grimacing, and sniffing.

Tics are incredibly common—as many as one in five children have a tic during school years, but males tend to get affected three to four times more often than females.

As children grow older, tics may become more frequent and increase in variety, involving more body parts. Tics vary widely in severity and peak at about 10 to 12 years of age and occur in about 20% of children, many of whom are not evaluated or diagnosed.

Eventually, most tics associated with TS tend to get milder and disappear in less than a year— usually even shorter, as kids grow into adulthood. However, in about 1% of children, tics persist through adult life. Most tics go away on their own. Tics that go away in less than a year are known as transient tics. When a person has both vocal tics and motor tics for more than a year, it is identified as TS.

Risk Factors and Causes

The exact cause of this complex disorder is unknown. TS can be triggered by abnormal metabolism (breakdown) of chemicals in the brain, and these are called dopamine and serotonin. Because of it, several parts of the brain including the thalamus, cerebral cortex and striatum are affected.

Current research most likely points to a genetic cause in most cases. Studies reveal that TS is inherited as a dominant gene with about a 50% chance of parents passing the genes onto their children.

While scientists continue to study other possible causes and environmental risk factors that might contribute to TS, the following factors might be associated with the onset of a non-genetic TS:

  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Low birth weight
  • Head trauma
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Encephalitis
  • Infections

Treatment Options

There is no cure for TS, but treatments are available. As tic symptoms do not cause any serious harm to the brain, medication for tic suppression is not needed when symptoms are mild. If it interferes with daily activities, such as pain and learning difficulties, behavioral-based medication is recommended.

The most consistently useful medication for tic suppression is neuroleptics. It may be used to treat neurobehavioral disorders.

For self-help, it is advised to follow these tips:

  • Avoid situations that cause stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  • Get enough sleep and avoid being tired.
  • Ignore the tics and focus on something else.
  • Make the child feel comfortable when it occurs. Reassure them it is all right and there is no need for them to feel embarrassed.

Other practical strategies for children in their schooling:

  • Put in place a comfortable and compassionate setting to maximize their full potential
  • Install a private study area
  • Have exams outside the regular classroom
  • Do oral exams when the child is not driven to writing
  • Do testing without time constraint to reduce stress


To confirm if visible signs are TS, you may visit a professional who specializes in TS disorders. Next, have a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s condition. For parents or caregivers, keep track of the child’s history and do a personalized observation of the child.

People with TS may have to go through difficult times, but with the proper environment and support system, they will learn how to live with it and accept it.