FASD and Tourettes
2004 Teresa Kellerman

Many children who were exposed prenatally to alcohol have symptoms associated with Tourettes Syndrome (involuntary body movements, such as mouth movements, vocal sounds, or quick hand movements).  Research shows that Tourettes is linked to abnormalities in the brain, specifically the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that is vulnerable to damage from prenatal exposure to alcohol.  Also, Tourettes may be related to an imbalance of neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin), which is also linked to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Sometimes medications can cause an increase in repetitive tic-like behaviors.  Stimulants can cause dry mouth, so kids taking stimulants are more likely to stick their tongue out repeatedly or make weird faces with their lips.  Stimulants might also cause an increase in tremor-like movements.  These seem to be more problematic for parents and teachers than for the children.  Tics and tremors seem to disappear over time and usually don't cause serious problems.

Another factor that might cause Tourettes-like symptoms in children who were prenatally exposed to alcohol is the lack of impulse control.  If some children have the impulse to blurt out inappropriate words, they may do it without thinking, without being able to control the impulse.

Some children with FAS or FAE may also have Tourettes, but most of the time they have Tourettes-like symptoms, which if noted in a psychiatric or medical report is not to be interpreted as meaning the child actually has Tourettes.  However, sometimes it is easier for doctors to diagnose symptoms of FAS or FAE as Tourettes or ADHD because these disorders carry less stigma for the family and less discomfort for the prescribing doctor than a diagnosis of one of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Interestingly, both Tourettes and FASD are more prevalent among special education students than the general population, and both are linked to ADHD and behavior disorders.


Tourettes Syndrome Association

News Story About Tourettes Syndrome

FAS Community Resource Center

FAS Community Resource Center

Fasstar Enterprises