Adult Onset Tourette Syndrome: How it started

The following post is from Alec Stott, author of the Adult Onset Tourette Syndrome blog.

I am a male, 21 years old, and this year, in 2013, I have developed what is in the process of being diagnosed at Tourette Syndrome (TS). I say in the process because the last medical professional I spoke to has explained to me that the condition cannot be diagnosed any earlier than 1 year after the initial onset, which for me will be early in February 2014.

However, what he did tell me after a 20-minute consultation is that he can see no other alternative diagnosis for the time being. I am awaiting an MRI scan, the results of which will be posted in a later entry, and for the time being that is the only name I can put to the condition in order to explain it to those closest to me.

So here is my story, in as many words as I can put it, to help anybody else in the world that is experiencing the same thing as I have been. And to those of you who are, come forward! Contact me, get in touch and tell me what’s going on. It’s all very new to me and I would love to be able to help and learn as much as I can. So, here’s the story…

In February 2013, while in my third and final year of university, with a fairly high stress load on my shoulders and plenty of family orientated issues in my life, I developed a semi-voluntary twitch in my left shoulder. I use the term semi-voluntary (admittedly stolen from a medical website explaining TS) because that is the only true way to describe it.

Imagine if you will, someone with arachnophobia knowingly having a spider placed on his or her hand. They would feel as though there was no alternative option but to throw it off in any way possible through the fear they felt. The feeling of a tic for me is almost identical to this, if the fear was to be replaced by a pain, discomfort or anxiety. So the choice to execute the tic, although still a choice, feels like the only option at the time.

With this new strange shoulder movement (which at the time I described as just a twitch) worsening over time, I contacted my GP as any person would, and had an appointment booked for 2 weeks later. Over those two weeks the ‘twitch’ worsened to a point where it was almost constant, day and night (according to my partner of 5 and a half years).

The appointment led to a preliminary diagnosis of dystonia, or possibly TTS (Transient Tic Disorder). The latter of these is, as far as I can gather from the Internet and books, a diagnosis for the first year of the symptoms, after which the condition would officially be diagnosed as TS.

Over the two weeks that followed the appointment, the real motor tics started to emerge. Head movements and shoulder movements that were identical each time, and resulted in a feeling of satisfaction once executed. There was also exhalation through the nose and grunting, tics that were more frequent and more elaborate than that which could be described as a ‘Twitch’.

With this I went back to see my GP again, who after a 10-minute consultation was the first person to use the term Tourette syndrome, something that had not really crossed my mind at all. I was always under the impression that TS was a condition that caused uncontrollable swearing and only from a young age, but evidently I was entirely wrong about that.

This is a misconception I feel society is plagued with, especially the idea that the condition causes swearing every time. Only 1 in 10 people with TS actually do curse or insult uncontrollably, and the documentations seen on television are usually the far more extreme of these.

I was booked to see a neurological consultant on June 17, which was quite some time after the initial appointments. This is something you should definitely expect to happen, the NHS offers a fantastic service, but they are constantly in high demand, especially in Neurology.

It was at this consultation that I saw the consultant who offered the preliminary diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome. In the weeks before the appointment, my tics developed into far more elaborate sequences of movements, the use of actual words and occasional swearing, and most annoyingly hitting myself.

I quite regularly now punch myself in the ribs or slap myself on the chest or the back of my head, shout ‘ha’ and ‘oi’ at unsuspecting strangers, clap and click with my mouth. The condition has seemed to settle into a constant state now, with no obvious new tics emerging, and with this I have learned fairly quickly to deal with it and accept it as it is.

In myself I feel very well, I am more positive most of the time, I feel less self aware and anxious, and luckily I have a limited control of the condition. I can hold back some tics for a fair length of time, although usually they will emerge at some stage in a worse form than usual.

For example, I went to a funeral a few months back and had to hold my tics for approximately 20 minutes, after which I had to unleash privately in a bathroom. But most importantly, we live in a society with people that are far more educated and accepting of conditions such as these.

I have left university, gotten a job in a holiday park working front of house behind a bar full time, and I work with a close-knit group of friends who have never questioned me at all. I was pleasantly surprised at how little the condition has affected my life.

As an acoustic singer/songwriter, I find the condition lies dormant when I am playing guitar or singing, so it has not affected me in that respect. The same happens when I play piano, drums, or even work on any music related project in which I am mixing/mastering music or recording music, etc.

It seems that ,usic (luckily one of the things I love most) is the one thing that the condition has not affected at all, and it remains to be my only respite. My partner has stuck with me, and actually seems to rather like my new extrovert side, often finding it hilarious when I say or do something new and bizarre.

We have even nicknamed the condition as Liam, my alter ego, because usually I come across as sarcastic, rude and obnoxious, in the same way that every ‘Liam’ myself and my best friend have ever met was (not to say that every Liam is the same, this is just a reflection of our personal experiences which coincidentally have been very similar).

I still don’t have many tips or tricks with the condition to offer, and, if anybody does for me I would be more than grateful. I find the condition has a tendency to flare up when I am nervous, irritated or angry, but most of the time it stays steady, unimposing and generally fully accepted by the general population.

Until next time, be free to get in touch. And in the good-humored manner of the Tourette Society, I’ll leave you with a saying I have grown enormously fond of in the past 6 months …

Life’s a twitch – Embrace it.




  1. I have a son with Tourette’s diagnosed at age 7 although he started having many issues when he was about 5 severe tics but mostly behavioral problems a total uncontrollable child diagnosed by a child neurologist they said rather disgnosis is not just based on tics but also all the associated behaviors that come along with it. As a mother I didn’t realize that he was always so angry now he’s 34 and has learned to manage his anxiety and live a normal life but recently I’ve seen a change in behavior blames me for everything that has gone wrong in his life. I wonder if anyone can shed some light on how this disorder alters your thinking and ability to mature emotionally, I know everyone’s experiences in life are different I’d like to at least be able to find a link between the 2. If anyone can help.

  2. So glad to have found this thread! I am 55 years old and was violently robbed 6 months ago. Ever since that day, I have had multiple daily physical explosions. I call them “spasms.” A friend of mine, who is a nurse, suggested that it may indeed be sudden onset TS resulting from my PTSD after the robbery. I was interested in the note left by Elise which suggested that Magnesium helps offset the urges to spasm. I have only recently been taking Magnesium for other health benefits and have noticed that my spasms have greatly decreased. I hope that these notes and suggestions help others, if for nothing else than to know you are not alone. Thank you all for having the courage to document your stories here!

  3. I had an onset of tics when I was 18- it’s been a year, now. I’ve researched everything, trying to figure out what on earth is happening, and no psychiatrist can explain it to me. This is the only information I have found that explains exactly what happened to me at eighteen. That I know of, I have no previous history of tics. I just woke up one day, and there they were. I assumed they’d go away after a few months, but no. At first it was head rolling, neck twitching, loud exhales, and long blinking.
    Now it’s evolved with those tics still present, but I have more as well: clapping, hitting my face, slamming my fist on the table, whistling, shivering… I’m so confused, and so happy there are people out there who are having the same issues as me.
    Where do I go for an evaluation if no psychiatrist has offered an explanation? Would this suggest that I don’t need one? If I did have Tourette’s would a diagnosis be helpful? I have so many questions with no one to explain it to me.

  4. My son developed Tourette at 13 years of age. A few years later, we realized it started a week or two after he got a couple of vaccinations for school. We have never questioned vaccinations. I’m a biology teacher. It could be a coincidence. Recently, I was speaking with another teacher who said her teen also has Tourette syndrome and was diagnosed at about 5 years of age. She associated it with vaccines he had just received at that time and never let him get any more vaccines. She says it has stayed mild. Our very trusted doctor assures us that the vaccines my son got had no mercury, etc. and he does not believe there is a link. I’m just keeping it in the back of my mind.

  5. I had vocal and motor tics from around 9 to 12 years old. My stepmother reacted to this by mocking me and throwing her cigarette lighter at my head sometimes giving a running commentary and scoring my tics. Face pulling, grunting, shrugging and coughing were my main act. I was never taken to a doctor and came to the conclusion my tics were a nervous reaction to the continual violence of my step mother. Fast forward to 2020 at 52 years old having never thought of them for 40 years they were back gradually and 2 years on they are taking over my life. As they started I had been skyping my 78 year old father in England who lay dying of pancreatic cancer in hospital. It became clear to me that my dad who always coughed sneezed or hummed throughout my childhood had the same thing. It suddenly all made sense. Wish he’d said something way back when it all started. Two years in I can no longer just leave the room or conceal it. I have begun telling those I see most I have Tourettes. I’m trying to identify potential triggers which so far has stress, gluten, caffeine and sugar at the top of the list.
    I’ve always been reactive to stress and prone to cursing which sometimes I would joke was like tourettes when I would curse loudly and repeatedly. While near dormant, on reflection it was always bubbling away under the surface. I’ve lead a reckless outrageous life falling foul of the law on many occasions yet had strong resolve to control my urges many times. The times I didn’t, I felt the same relief the tics gave temporarily but then had to pay the consequences. It felt good to lose control and go wild but then it was time to clean up the mess which wasn’t much fun.

  6. Wow! A very similar thing happened to me this past year.

    I’m 27 years old. This all started when I was 26. I was particularly stressed out with school and work. I was having family issues and issues with my landlord. This persisted over about 3 months, during which time I developed semi-voluntary facial tics (grimacing and blinking).

    I decided to go on vacation. It was incredibly stressful, and I started full-on ticcing. Grunts and blinking. I went through a small waning period before the other vocal tics started. I was shouting and even had some mild coprolalia.

    I went to a neurologist and he diagnosed me with tourettes syndrome. Now, over a year later I’ve got all sorts of tics. I develop new ones here and there, but their frequency is about the same.

    He believes I’ve always had tourettes syndrome, it just went unnoticed and got better during childhood, which is the normal course. Then as an adult it got severe from stress.

  7. What I think actually happened to this poor young man is that he had a nervous breakdown and the shoulder ticks are just a symptom of the mental and physical stress he was enduring that caused the break down.

    • I can confirm that up until now, in 2023, he still has Tourette’s and it absolutely was note a mental breakdown. Tourette’s Syndrome is a real thing please don’t try to take that away from those who are dealing with it.

  8. I have only been dealing with my ‘tics’ (no doctors) for a few months. The tics tend to show up when stressed, in pain, chemicals, and sleepiness. What i have tried and seems to work okay is a bit different for each problem. Most of the time i take VALERIAN ROOT supplements. When sleepy i stick to vitamins and low caffeine levels plus valerian root. To take care of the pain as best i can and valetian root to help calm my body, has been workin okay for me.
    Find your “triggers” and try to deal with the trigger then the tics. With pain being a trigger for me, i could be tic free but if i start hurting the tics show up. If its my back hurting i use a topical pain cream and take a pill like acetaminophen, then valerian root to calm my body and my mind down. I really hope this can help at least one person, even if it only helps a little. Good luck to all of you.

  9. Hi there – what a crazy life we live . To beleive we can be someone for 30 years and then all of a sudden change to a completely different person it seems . I have also been having
    To tic this last year after
    Through a great deal of grief and stress. I told my
    Doctor and he brushed
    It off as anxiety but it is consuming my life affecting my social life and job . I am glad I came across this today . I’m going
    To go back to my doctor and try to get
    To a diagnosis for myself . Thanks for the read and
    Your support makes me have hope .
    So happy your doing so well . I also agree with the fact that when I am distracted my urges to tic lay dormant
    . So weird

  10. Heya. I’ve found this page because lately I’ve been having strange little tics scattered around the day that were seemingly involuntary. I’m 16, and in junior year of high school. I have adhd and anxiety, and maybe some other stuff going on as well. The weird lil twitches made me suspicious, especially when i was in class or something and my leg or head would jump up out of nowhere. In terms of anything vocal, there’s not much, but randomly I’ll make a very quiet little humming noise at the back of my throat. Been concerned about this for a bit of time, glad to read about your experience!

  11. Alec, with yours coming on so much later in life than is typically, and progressing as suddenly as it did, I’m wondering if it had anything to do with a chemical imbalance? I have heard of others trying magnesium glycinate and having some success. In fact Malcolm who has posted on this site has recommended it, maybe you could contact him? Here’s the contact info he left: malcolm_kermit@hotmail.com I have a different neurological issue (seizures, also adult onset) and I’ve seen a big improvement since adding dietary supplements. Good luck!

  12. Hi, I’ve just spent two days in hospital having MRI, CT scan, blood tests for a similar thing. The neurologists found nothing and have labelled it a “physical manifestation of a psychological disorder”, suggesting I see a psychologist. Not much help really.

    • Hope u find the help u need but be strong I new something was wrong with me my hole life and they all said I was fine all my test said I was fine. But it turned out they was looking in the wrong place. And get this. I see the number 1 nuro doc here. And it took him 2 yrs. And he is still looking for more crap. I have central core muscular dystrophy. Temporary paralysis. They looking for ms. And they thinking I have ts too lol. It just keeps getting better and better. My simtoms r getting worse as I get older. But it was really slow moving we hoping it stays that way so I can watch my kids grow up. But any way everyone told me see the sik doc so I did. Of course I was starting to think they might be right. And those docs all said the same ghing. It’s not my prob see a Nero. Lol. The round and round makes u dissy but once u except it. It gets easier. And u can be happier. Good luck and don’t listen them.

  13. I also developed this about three years ago and have decided to look it up tonight. Interesting read. Love the Liam thing ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *