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Understanding the Differences Between Tourettes and Autism

August 26, 2022


In this article, the differences between the symptoms of Tourette syndrome and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will be discussed, as well as whether there are possible links between the two conditions. 

Understanding the Differences Between Tourettes and Autism
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/connection-between-tourettes-autism/

It is important to note that research is always being updated and different outcomes can present depending on different individuals. I hope though, that upon finishing reading, you will have a good understanding of the differences and overlaps between tourettes and autism.

What is Tourette syndrome and is there a connection to autism spectrum disorders?

Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome is also called Tourette syndrome or tourettes and is a disorder that is mainly characterized by different and more common tics. These tics are generally vocal or motor tics.

A study performed for the article, The relationship between tics, OC, ADHD and autism symptoms: A cross-disorder symptom analysis in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome patients and their family members, tracked, graphed, and used different methods to show similarities between the symptoms of different neurological disorders. These neurodiversities include tourette syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and ADHD.

Individuals with autism can have different repetitive behaviors, social communication issues, need for schedule, and sometimes a lack of imagination. These symptoms are similar with some of those found in tourettes that the researchers noted in the article.

Tourettes disorder and autism spectrum disorders can be comorbid conditions, meaning that an individual can be diagnosed with both conditions. So, although there are similarities, they are two different conditions that would both have separate diagnostic criteria.

What are the symptoms of Tourettes disorder?

Tourettes disorders would mainly be categorized under tic disorders because it is characterized by both motor and vocal tics. These tics can include:

  • Simple tics:
    these are more common than complex tics and are generally movements that are brief, sudden, and repetitive behaviors that use limited muscle groups (eye blinking, facial movements and grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and jerking of the head and/or shoulders)
  • Complex tics:
    these involve several muscle groups that form coordinated and distinct patterns of movement (this could be a combination of facial movements and grimacing with head movement and/or shrugging, sniffing and/or touching items, other large motor movements like jumping and bending and/or twisting that seem to be purposeful.

There can also be vocal tic disorders that range and include:

  • Simple vocal tics:
    these tics can include, but not be limited to bursts of barking, grunting, sniffing, and/or throat clearing
  • Complex vocal tics:
    These tics are the ones that include the repeating of words, phrases, repeating what others are saying (echolalia), and, in rare occasions, can include using inappropriate language like curse words (coprolalia)

What is the likelihood an autistic child can also be diagnosed with tourettes syndrome?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) researchers found that 21% of children that have been diagnosed with autism will also be diagnosed with tourettes. When interviewed, parents of children with tourettes noticed tics when the children were six, with the average age of an increase in problematic behaviors occurring around nine years old.

Other statistics from the CDC about tourettes include parents noticing that major changes, like changing schools, can make tics worse. In comparison to autism, I have noted that there can be certain behavioral increases when there are changes that are difficult to prepare for, like an unexpected vaccination or blood draw at the doctor’s office.

Another similarity I noted from the CDC is that half of the parents of children with tourettes noticed that exercise and/or quiet time helps tics recede. The same can be true for children with autism; there are some children that just need to get up and move around, where others need to have heavy work or purposeful movement to relax and focus better.


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A difference between these two disorders is that the researchers noted tics recede into the teenage and adult years in most patients. There was a study noted in the CDC article that said:

“One study that followed youth with TS over time found that at 18 years of age, almost half of the youth had been tic-free the week before they were interviewed, about 1 in 10 had minimal tics, almost 3 in 10 had mild symptoms, and just over 1 in 10 had moderate-to-severe tics.”

Could it be autism or another diagnosis?

In the article, Elevated Rate of Autism Symptoms Found in Children with Tourette Syndrome, Suzanne Leigh notes that, although there are definitely researchers that support the comorbid conditions of both autism and tourettes syndrome, there could be other factors at play.

Suzanne writes in her article: “This suggests that some of the increase may reflect underlying psychiatric impairment rather than being specific for autism. Some of the children in the study probably have autism, others have symptoms that mimic autism, but are not really due to autism. These symptoms are called phenocopies.”

In these situations there would need to be further diagnosis and continued conversations with the child’s doctors and/or therapist that has worked with and created goals and a plan for your child. You know your child best and if something doesn’t seem right, whether it is a diagnosis, treatment, or behaviors your child is exhibiting, it is always a good idea to talk to your child’s doctor.

Shoot for the moon

Norman Vincent Peale penned the saying: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

This saying can go so far for so many people. I feel it can mean more for special needs parents. It’s a reminder that although there are so many different ways of looking at a behavior and diagnosis, a loved and supported individual can soar and succeed.

As a parent, we can do our best and provide what our children need to move forward in life. That can seem daunting, but then there are the days that you get to see the growth your child has been working on and you can see and feel how much they’ve grown and how strong they are becoming and that spurs you both forward to strive for more.

A diagnosis is only the beginning, the treatment and setting of goals is the platform, but love, strength, and courage are what dreams are made of and can move mountains.

References:

Cath, D.C, Huisman-van Dijk, H.M, Mathews, C.A, Rijkeboer, M.M, van de Schoot, R. (2016). The relationship between tics, OC, ADHD and autism symptoms: A cross-disorder symptom analysis in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome patients and their family members. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137472/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Data and Statistics on Tourette Syndrome. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/tourette/data.html

Leigh, S. (2017). Elevated Rate of Autism Symptoms Found in Children with Tourette Syndrome. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2017/06/407421/elevated-rate-autism-symptoms-found-children-tourette-syndrome

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. (2021). Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/tourette-syndrome-fact-sheet

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