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12. Is there an association between autism and Tourette’s syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited neurological disorder. Its symptoms begin in early childhood and are often accompanied by obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Patients suffering from Tourette’s syndrome exhibit repeated and involuntary body movements (tics) and uncontrollable vocal sounds.While Tourette’s syndrome is commonly associated with uncontrolled vocalizations of socially inappropriate words and phrases (coprolalia), this occurs in only a minority of cases. For some, the involuntary and compulsive repeated words, phrases, or sounds are so severe that it makes communication impossible.

The involuntary body movements can range from the innocuous, such as eye blinking or repeated throat clearing or sniffing, to more noticeable and disturbing movements such as arm thrusting, kicking movements, shoulder shrugging, or jumping.

The commonalities of stereotyped motor movements, the repetition of words and phrases, and other mannerisms have suggested an association between autism and Tourette’s syndrome, which may include a possible common neurochemical abnormality. In fact,Tourette’s syndrome occurs in autistic children more commonly than in the general population—up to 30 percent in some studies.

Making the diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome in an autistic child can be difficult. The characteristic behaviors of Tourette’s syndrome can be mistaken autistic behaviors. For example, autistic children may exhibit self-stimulatory behaviors that resemble tics or they may perseverate sounds or words that can be mistaken for the vocal tics of Tourette’s. Diagnosis for Tourette’s is often delayed for several other reasons that include:

- The symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome are variable and inconsistent. The symptoms that the parents observe at home can be different from those that the doctor sees when examining the child.

-  Many physicians are unfamiliar with the disorder. They may dismiss the tics and vocalizations as “part of autism.”

- There is no laboratory or radiologic study that can diagnose Tourette’s syndrome. Instead, doctors must rely on the history of the person’s symptoms.

The main criterion for a Tourette’s diagnosis is the presence of both types of tics-movement and

Vocal-for at least a year. Attempts at limiting the tics through behavioral modification may actually increase them.

 Terms:

 Coprolalia - The involuntary uttering of vulgar or obscene words

 

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