Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tourette Syndrome

When our daughter was about six years old, she began making repetitive hand gestures and vocalizations.  She began sniffling constantly, and at first we thought it might be allergies.  Her doctor agreed and wrote a prescription, which didn’t help. 

The sniffling continued and she also began frequent throat clearing.  Additional allergy medications were tried, but had no affect.  The repetitive gestures continued as well.

We later learned that these movements and vocalizations are called tics.  There were also sudden angry outbursts and uncontrollable meltdowns.

Laura said that she just had to do the gestures and make the noises.  It wasn’t that they were completely out of her control.  She could sometimes resist doing them, but not for long.  Fortunately, swearing was never a problem, as it is for about 10% of people with Tourette Syndrome.

Her pediatrician referred us for counseling to find out what was causing this bazaar behavior.  The counselor (I can’t remember now if she was a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker) began by asking us about our home life.  She wanted specifically to know if our lives included alcoholism or domestic violence.

The counselor seemed sure that Laura’s behavior must be due to something that was going on within our home.  After a few hour-long visits with Laura, however, she decided that the problem was more likely physical in origin.  She referred us to a Child Psychiatrist. 

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in mental health issues.  While Tourette Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder, it is treated by mental health professionals. 

The cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown.  It is believed to be inherited, but the exact gene hasn’t been found.  There may also be environmental triggers involved such as autoimmune disorders, the contraction of streptococcal bacteria (the cause of strep throat), lack of blood supply/oxygen during birth and low birth weight.

People with Tourette Syndrome frequently also have associated conditions, which include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD and ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), learning disabilities, behavior problems, sleep disorders, depression and anxiety disorders.

Laura outgrew the tics during adolescence, but has struggled over the years with some of the associated conditions.  I’ll be discussing these issues in later posts.

“Thank you” to my daughter, Laura, for allowing me to share her story.



  1. Thank you for sharing this with us, I appreciate Laura letting you! You're a great mom:)

  2. My son's best friend didn't get his tics until he was about 12. He's 22 now and worse. He or his family have none of the typical history either. It's a real learning process. I have family with ADD and more and I know how rough these things can be. Most people don't understand. Talking and learning to understand is the best process. Great that you are sharing.

  3. I'm the proud Grandma of this delightful child, who is not a child anymore. She is such a sweet girl and we are so proud of he accomplishments.