Autism and Tourette Syndrome

September 13, 2016

Tourette syndrome is an inherited neurological disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by the presence of multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal tic; these tics characteristically come and go. It is a co-morbid disorder with Autism Spectrum Disorders such as autism and Aspergers syndrome.

Tourette’s can occur from the age of 2. Around 30% of people on the spectrum are thought to have Tourette’s or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is called a co-morbid disorder. For some, vocal tics (involuntary and compulsive repeated words/phrases/sounds) are so severe it takes over their communication to the point where it becomes utterly dysfunctional and cause them to lose faith in pursuing communication at all (there is a prevailing myth that these are always swear words, in fact only a small percentage of those with Tourette’s experience the swearing tics). Movement/motor tics can include jumping, flapping, slapping, biting, blinking, grimacing, hand movements, finger movements, tapping, smelling, squeezing, shrugging, hair flicking, etc and of course compulsive breath holding, coughing, sniffing, and throat clearing. If severe, these tics can take over and interrupt most interaction.

The incidence may be as high as one in a hundred people, up to 530,000 U.S. school-age children may have Tourette’s, with the more common tics of eye blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing, and facial movements. People with Tourette’s have normal life expectancy and intelligence. The severity of the tics decreases for most children as they pass through adolescence, and extreme Tourette’s in adulthood is a rarity. Notable individuals with Tourette’s are found in all walks of life.

As with other neurologically based psychiatric disorders, the genetics of Tourette’s syndrome and autism are proving to be more complex than anticipated, with a large number of different genes probably at work in both disorders. It is not clear whether there is any genetic connection or the two disorders co-occur. Genetic and environmental factors each play a role in the etiology of Tourette’s, but the exact causes are unknown. In most cases, medication is unnecessary. There is no effective medication for every case of tics, but there are medications and therapies that can help when their use is warranted.


For scholarly journals and abstracts on Tourette’s and Autism read more.