It could be your child or another member of your family, a friend, or perhaps even your boss at work.

As many as 90,000 New Jersey residents may be living with some form of Tourette syndrome.

“Tourette is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics, and it usually appears by the time a child is 6 or 7 years old," said Faith Rice, executive director of the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome. "It affects every ethnic group and boys are affected 3 to 4 times more often than girls.”

The New Jersey Center for Tourette syndrome conducts outreach to teachers and doctors across the state, to provide education and training about TS.

Like autism, Tourette ranges from very severe to mild, and it is almost always accompanied by mental health disorders, including attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression and other conditions.

“According to the CDC, 1 in 100 school aged children show signs of TS, so that’s more than 20,000 kids right here in the state of New Jersey,” she said.

Rice also pointed out a mild case of Tourette can go undiagnosed for years. In fact, there are many cases of adults not being diagnosed until they were in their 40s, 50s or 60s.

“The first noticeable signs of TS in childhood are sniffing, excessive eye blinking, and vocalizations like repeating words or hooting, chirping, or making other strange repetitive sounds, and perhaps an inability to pay attention as well,” she said.

While those with TS frequently have mental health disorders, she said this has nothing to do with intelligence.

“It’s just that the brain misfires, if you will, and causes strange movements and often strange vocalizations,” she said.

Rice added if unsupported, kids and adults living with TS are prime targets for bullying, misunderstandings and social isolation, “so it’s critical that there be early diagnosis so that proper treatment can be made available.”

She explained there are medications used to treat Tourette, which may or may not work, and there are also new drugs in the pipeline, but the most effective non-drug therapy is called habit reversal.

“It teaches the person with Tourette to anticipate his tic and to be very mindful of where the tic is starting in the body, and to introduce a competitive, more socially acceptable, less painful response to the tic,” she said.

“For instance, if your tic is punching the wall, you might learn to put your hand in your pocket and keep it in your pocket when you experience the need to do that particular tic.”

She added that it’s important for people to realize “individuals with Tourette syndrome are dealing with this 24-7, and that they don’t want to tic.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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