Symptoms of Tourette's in Babies

grandmother holding baby girl
Tourette symptoms must occur for a year before diagnosis. (Image: -slav-/iStock/Getty Images)

Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder named for a French neurologist who described the condition in 1885. The disorder causes tics, which are involuntary movements, speech and sounds. Males are more likely to have Tourette than females and the condition affects all ethnic groups. Although the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome appear in children when they are about 3 years old, the average age of onset ranges between 7 and 10 years of age. With increased knowledge of the condition, some parents question whether certain behaviors exhibited by their babies might indicate Tourette Syndrome.

Causes

Research shows Tourette Syndrome to be a genetic condition in most cases that is possibly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some children acquire Tourette’s through non-genetic means, such as problems during pregnancy or head trauma during infancy. Although babies may be born with Tourette Syndrome, there is little information about symptoms of the condition that babies might experience.

Symptoms

The symptoms attributed to Tourette Syndrome are those experienced by older children and adults. The repetitive tics that are characteristic of the condition are classified as motor and vocal. Simple tics involve a few muscle groups, while complex tics involve several muscle groups. Motor tics usually begin first, starting in the head and neck, with vocal tics following. Motor tics include grimacing, blinking, shrugging, twisting and jumping. Vocal tics include throat-clearing, grunting, barking and shouting words.

Onset of Symptoms

Infants are mostly non-verbal and just learning to control their bodies, which makes it a challenge to detect Tourette’s symptoms. Some doctors believe that tics during infancy might indicate Tourette’s Syndrome, according to a research study performed by Samuel Zinner, M.D. and published in the “Interdisciplinary Journal of Early Childhood Intervention” in 2006. Children with Tourette Syndrome usually begin to exhibit symptoms around 3 years of age, according to FamilyDoctor.org. Symptoms usually begin with motor tics in the head and neck. The motor ticks sometimes progress to the rest of the body.

Delayed Diagnosis

Doctors generally do not diagnose Tourette Syndrome until a patient has exhibited both vocal and motor tics for at least one year. The diagnosis may be delayed in many cases because parents assume that tics such as eye blinking, sniffing or throat clearing are caused by allergies or other illnesses. Parents also may believe that the behaviors are a normal part of the child’s development. For many patients, diagnosis of the syndrome occurs long after the symptoms first appear. Doctors may use family history and genetic counseling to help diagnose Tourette’s.

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