Tourettes Action
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9 year old son

Hi I may be jumping to the completely the wrong conclusion but we have an adopted son of 9 who has lived since he was nearly 5. He suffers terribly with anxiety, anger, low self esteem etc and social workers have said he has an attachment disorder. Approx 2 years ago he developed a shoulder shrug and a twitch, this then changed to a a clicking sound in his throat constantly, this has changed again to a nose twitch and a jaw stretch. He still coughs, sniffs, makes clicking sounds aswell, this is usually when he is sitting still watching tv but the twitchs are constant. Does anyone have any experience of adopted children developing tourettes.

Please help, thank you

2 Replies


Tourettes appears to be much more common in children who have suffered early life trauma either in the womb or or during the early years than in the general population.

There is no definitive scientific evidence for this - there are no detailed studies that I am aware of - either nationally or internationally, But those who have very wide experience of both Tourettes and adoption, eg Nancy Thomas, Bryan Post and others in the USA - and anecdotally in the UK through post-adoption organisations such as Family Futures, will certainly testify to this. Even if their child-rearing techniques are not altogether your cup of tea, the breadth and depth of their experience is without question ...

Bryan Post:

Nancy Thomas:


Although it is now widely accepted that in "normal circumstances" Tourettes is an inherited and complex neurological disorder, there is dispute about the environmental triggers for Tourettes, and also possible causes of "acquired" Tourettes. It is known that in some cases (eg car crashes or similar) where there is physical trauma to the brain Tourettes can be acquired. These cases are generally thought to be quite rare.

However, as you will know from your research on Attachment Disorder, in developing babies and young children (and, indeed to a lesser extent, across the lifespan), the difference between what is classed as "physical" or "psychological" is not straightforward.

Psychological trauma or abuse causes physical changes in the brain. And once you add things into the mix such as adopted children whose birth mothers used or abused drugs or alcohol, this muddies the waters even more.

Personally, to keep things simple (I am not medically qualified) I prefer to think of all of these things as "brain damage" (once you've got it, doesn't matter if it's inherited or acquired) which can result in all sorts of symptoms which, depending on their nature and severity, require therapeutic treatment and care.

I hope that helps you with your question.

With regard to your son's specific symptoms, and his Social Worker's view that he has Attachment Disorder ... I hope you don't mind me giving you a bit of advice. Unless you have lots of money and can afford private treatment (sadly, by far the easiest and quickest option for this kind of thing in the UK), my advice would be to get a formal CLINICAL diagnosis of attachment disorder through CAMHS/your local mental health services very quickly. Even if your family is "managing" your son's behaviours now with the support of social workers, for good life chances he is going to need clinical therpeutic interventions at some point soon, and pscyhological therapies are limited and often inadequate. For example, in my own area therapy for attachment disordered children is limited to those under 12 years of age because of lack of qualified clinical psychologists. You might be lucky and live in London or Birmingham. If not, and if necessary, "fast track" your route to a CAMHS appointment and diagnosis through your local authority adoption support services officer (or get the social worker to do it for you), saying that the need is urgent. They can help you avoid the usual waiting times in health services by ensuring your son receives the same priority as a looked-after child. If necessary, invoke the Adoption Act 2002. It is a pain in the neck of a process to go through, but could save him precious months. The earlier the treatment, the more successful the outcome.

Securing a clinical diagnosis of Tourettes is arguably less beneficial - it depends very much on the individual needs of your child (eg it can be a useful passport to a Statement of Special Educational Needs - but may result in lifelong stigma and/or discrimination by potential employers and others - ironically, including adoption agencies). For more on this I would recommend you use the "Tags" on Health Unlocked to search for more information on things like diagnosis, Special Educational Needs and issues such as PTSD.

I would further recommend that - even if you are not normally a "groups" person - you seek out a Tourettes Action support group in your local area (give the Helpline a call and ask for Julie to call or email you back with details). You will no doubt find, once you get to know people, that there are a number of people who have a lot of very useful - sometimes life-changing - practical tips to offer on dealing with the effects on the brain of trauma. And not just relating to tics. For almost all people with Tourettes, tics are just the tip of the iceberg ...


Although I'm not adopted I'm one of the few that doesn't have any close or extended family members with TS or history of tics. However my mum suffered pretty bad morning sickness with myself and my brothers and was hospitalised whilst pregnant with me.My brothers are both 6 ft non-ticcers and I'm 5'2" TS/OCD/ADHD/bi-polar shorty born early with a nasty squint (fixed at 5) and colic. I do however have members of my extended family with bi-polar.

Over christmas my mum read the TS book writen by Prof Mary Robertson and Dr Cavanna and there is a bit about morning sickness and the links with TS and also believes that this is probably the most likely cause of my TS - Dr Cavanna I think also probably agrees as there doesn't seem to be any family history.


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