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Tourette’s syndrome is a specific type of tic disorder, characterized by more severe and persistent tics. It can be found in all parts of the world and among all racial/ethnic groups. It is three- to four-times more prevalent among males than females.

How many children have Tourette’s syndrome?

Studies suggest that around one to three out of every 1,000 children have Tourette’s, or around .1 to .3 of a percent of all kids. (Lilienfeld & Arkowitz, 2009) Other estimates put the prevalence rate as high as 1%, but this is likely an overestimate. The disorder typically emerges at around age 6 or 7, and is sometimes confused with autism.

What is Tourette’s syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by three basic types of tics:

Coprolalia: The involuntary uttering of o words or socially inappropriate remarks.

Copropraxia: The involuntary performing of forbidden gestures.

Motor tics; Grunting, head movements, and other physical gestures that a person feels compelled to perform.

Tourettes syndrome has been popularized by the media and in the process seriously mischaracterized. TV and movies typically present the more dramatic manifestations, showing it as someone who blurts out offensive words or phrases on a constant basis. Yet only 10 to 15 % of patients swear or use obscene gestures, and such ticks are only part of their repertoire which may occur rather sporadically and infrequently. The rest of sufferers have uncontrollable motor tics such has head movement, grunting or throat clearing. (ibid)

Another common myth is that a person with coprolalia or copropraxia is blurting out what they truly feel, giving voice to those dark inner thoughts that most of us inhibit. In reality, such compulsions typically have little to do with their personal feelings. If a tourettes suffere blerts out the word “n*gger” while talking to an African American or “sl*t” while looking at a woman, You can’t take this as a sign that they are racist/sexist at their core. It’s more likely than not they blurt such a word merely because it’s taboo.

People with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) typically get hung up around a variety of intrusive thoughts they may imagine someone they love getting someone they love getting into a car accident, or get hung up around the thought of having sex with their father. Such thoughts don’t pop into mind because they’re yearning for incest or want to see their loved ones killed; they occur precisely because it’s a horrible, frightening, or taboo thought to imagine. Coprolalia and copropraxia in Terettes is basically a version of this, while a Tourettes sufferer gives voice or action to all these intrusive thoughts that pop into their head

What causes Tourette’s syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is classified as a motor disorder under the neurodevelopmental disorder category of the DSM-5 (the manual clinicians use to diagnose mental disorders). It appears to be caused by dysfunction in the neural circuits between the basal ganglia and other parts of the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex. It’s a deficiency in the networks connecting the brain’s cortex and subcortex, or the parts that control higher cognition with the parts responsible for reflexive actions.

Tourette’s seems to run in families and appears to be largely genetic and inherited. Those with Tourette’s often have comorbid (co-occurring) disorders of other types in addition to the tics, which suggests Tourette’s may be part of a broader susceptibility toward neural disorders.

Diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome

Diagnosing a youth with Tourette’s syndrome is fairly straightforward. According to the DSM-5, a person must meet the following two criteria:

1) They exhibit both multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic over the course of at least a year, though the vocal and motor tics needn’t happen at the same time.

2) These tics must have started prior to the age of 18 and cannot be attributed to substance abuse or other neurological conditions (seizures, autism, etc.).

Unlike most other mental health diagnoses, these symptoms don’t need to be causing a person distress or leading to impairment in their life in order to met the diagnosis.

Effects & consequences of Tourette’s syndrome in children

Most cases to Tourette’s syndrome are not severe, and may cause little disruption in a child’s life. Many successful and accomplished people have had Tourette’s, including sports players,actors and legislators. The most concerning consequence of the disorder is that a child may be teased or bullied because of their tics, paving the way for other psychological problems.

Treatment for Tourette’s

The symptoms of Tourette’s typically decrease in severity and become more manageable as a child grows older. By the age of 10, most children can recognize the urge for a tic coming on and take steps to disrupt it. Tourette’s is typically controlled through behavioral therapies such as habit reversal training. Medication should be used only in the most extreme cases.

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