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The sensory processing of adults with Tourette Syndrome

Posted on 29 September 2014


Research finding that people with TS have higher sensory sensitivity

Tourette Syndrome is a hyperkinetic movement disorder, involving multiple motor and phonic tics. Sensory urges often precede these tics and increasing evidence to suggest that individuals might also experience heightened sensitivity to external stimuli.  This research seeks to explore how the sensory processing of adults with Tourette Syndrome compares with that of the general population using a Sensory Profile self-questionnaire.
Using a range of statistical tests, the profile results from a sample of adults with Tourette Syndrome were compared with those of the standardisation study’s adult age group (Brown and Dunn, 2002). Adults with Tourette Syndrome scored significantly higher than the standardisation adult age group in the quadrants of sensory sensitivity and sensation avoidance, consistent with predictions made, based upon literature. The Tourette Syndrome group also scored significantly higher in the quadrant of low registration and significantly lower in terms of sensation seeking.
This study has provided a preliminary description of how the sensory processing of adults with Tourette syndrome differs from that of the general population.  Owing to the study’s limitations, the account cannot be conclusive.  However, the results suggests that the conclusions will reflect the broader population. 

This study did not collect any information regarding the impact that sensory processing had upon the daily functioning of those with Tourette syndrome.  Therefore, future research efforts need to investigate whether the differences in sensory processing are of clinical significance.  It is also necessary to determine if the same differences in sensory processing are demonstrated by children with Tourette syndrome and adults aged over 65 years when compared to groups from the general population.  There is obviously a vast amount of research which is needed to determine differences in the sensory processing of those who are diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and co-morbid disorders, such as OCD and ADHD, compared to those with a singular diagnosis.  Finally, the impact that medication has upon the sensory experiences of those with Tourette syndrome will also need to be explored.  There would also clearly be benefits to any research which attempted to clarify whether some tics were triggered by, or intensified, as a result of sensory stimuli. 

The answers to these questions would have practical implications for occupational therapists working with adults and children who have Tourette syndrome.  Such findings would inform practice, and help to develop effective occupational therapy interventions which addressed the sensory needs of those with Tourette syndrome and, by extension, help to increase participation in activities of daily life and lead to greater satisfaction in occupational performance.

What does this mean for people with Tourettes Syndrome?

These are general findings and may not reflect your experience but for those with Tourette syndrome this offers further understanding of why they might respond as they do.  When compared with others these findings indicate that: 
• Increased sensory sensitivity means individuals will have a much stronger reaction to sensations such as pain, noise or smells.
• Increased sensory avoidance means individuals are more likely to avoid sensory input and actively escape stimulating situations
• Regarding low registration this means individuals are more likely to respond to sensory stimulation than the general population.
• And lower sensation seeking means that individuals are less likely to seek out sensations or sensory experiences.

This research has been submitted for publication and we hope to have a link to it here on the TA website when it is ready. If you have more questions about this research please contact: Chris McKenna,, 01642 38 4191.

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