How do I know if my child has Tourette Syndrome?


Below is a checklist of some of the common tics that are symptomatic of TS. Be aware that children can often have an independent tic without having TS.Tourette’s is a combination of both physical (motor) and vocal tics that are involuntary and repetitive. The tics have to have been present for at least a year before the age of 18 for a formal diagnosis to be made.

As you read through the list you will likely tick (sorry!) a number of the boxes. In that you are not alone. Your child is completely normal – in the world of TS anyway.

 TS is neither a progressive nor degenerative disorder; rather, the tics tend to be changeable and will wax and wane over an otherwise normal life span. Each person will display different tics with varying frequency and severity.

 Motor and vocals tics are categorised into two types – simple and complex.

Simple motor tics are fast and meaningless while complex motor tics tend to be slower and may appear purposeful. Simple vocal tics tend to be noises that often appear as just ordinary sounds like sniffing or coughing.

Complex vocal tics meanwhile are more intrusive such as repeating certain words or phrases such as ‘oh boy’ or ‘all right’ or repeating a phrase until it sounds ‘just right’.


Simple motor tics

Eye blinking or rolling; facial grimacing; nose twitching; shoulder shrugging; arm jerking; head jerking; head nodding; finger movements; mouth opening; jaw snapping; rapid jerking of any part of body

Complex motor tics

Hopping; jumping; touching objects; twirling; gyrating; bending; head banging; kissing; licking; pinching; facial gestures; copropraxia; echopraxia.

Simple vocal tics

Throat clearing; coughing; spitting; sniffing; snorting; screeching; barking; grunting; clacking; whistling; sucking sounds.

Complex vocal tics

Repetition of phrases like ‘shut up’, ‘you know’ and ‘oh boy’; making animal noises; muttering under one’s breath; complex breathing patterns; stuttering; variations in speech like accents, loudness, rapidity, tones, rhythms; coprolalia; palilalia; echolalia.


copropraxia – repeating obscene gestures
echopraxia – imitating actions of others
coprolalia – saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times
palilalia  – repeating their own words
echolalia – repeating sounds or words said by others
Material sourced from The National Organisation for Rare Disorders, USA.


What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is characterised by vocal and motor tics that range from mild to extreme in severity. Individuals can have singular tics, however both vocal and motor tics have to have been present for at least a year for an individual to be diagnosed with TS.

Why is it called Tourette Syndrome?

The syndrome is named after Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a French physician and neurologist. He was credited with defining the syndrome in 1885 after spending many years studying why certain people displayed sudden twitches and vocalisations.

What causes TS?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a genetic, neurological disorder that occurs during childhood. Not all children that inherit the TS gene display the traits that are associated with the disorder. Boys more commonly inherit the gene associated with TS. The ratio of girls vs. boys being diagnosed with TS is 1:4.

Is there a cure for Tourette’s?

No. At the moment the exact gene and neurons that cause TS are not known so there is no cure. Medication can in some cases help with suppressing the tics associated with TS.

Do the tics go away?

Remission can occur in adulthood. Some literature reports that 1/3 of adults have no tics; 1/3 still occasionally have mild tics and 1/3 will continue to have the same level of tics.

How many children in New Zealand are diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome?

The New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders endorses the Australian Tourette Syndrome Association statistics of 1:1000 children having TS. Not all of those with TS will be diagnosed with TS due to the mild nature of their symptoms.

Is Tourette’s a mental health disorder?

No, TS is not categorised as a mental health disorder. However many of the disorders that co-exist with TS like ADHD, OCD or depression are recognised mental health disorders and the psychological impact or issues associated with TS are treatable by mental health practitioners.

Does everyone who has TS swear?

No. Only a small percentage of those diagnosed with TS have coprolalia – an extreme vocal tic that causes the person to repeat inappropriate words.

What does ‘comorbid’ mean?

This term is used when a disease or disorder occurs simultaneously with another disease or disorder.

Will having TS shorten my lifespan?

Those diagnosed with TS can expect to live to normal life expectancy.

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