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Children with Tourette syndrome are faster at certain aspects of language

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Posted October 1, 2016

Tourette syndrome is usually known as a condition, which makes people yell out swearwords uncontrollably. Although cursing is just a small part of the tics that people with Tourette syndrome experience, it is quite common for this condition to affect the speech. Surprisingly, now scientists found that children with Tourette syndrome may actually have an advantage at language.

Although Tourette syndrome causes semi-voluntary movements and vocalisations, known as tics, it may actually reduce the time children take to complete certain language tasks. Image credit: J. Verkuilen via Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0

Although Tourette syndrome causes semi-voluntary movements and vocalisations, known as tics, it may actually reduce the time children take to complete certain language tasks. Image credit: J. Verkuilen via Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0

This new research revealed that children with neurological disorder, called Tourette syndrome, are better at phonology – assembling sounds into words. Scientists think it is so because of some abnormalities in the brain that cause motor and vocal tics. This research is unique in a way that it does not look at this condition searching for something utterly negative. Instead, scientists decided to try and identify what advantages children with Tourette syndrome may have in comparison with typically developing children, because weaknesses and obstacles are already well established.

Interestingly, being better at phonology also leads to being better at morphology – children with Tourette syndrome are faster at putting together meaningful parts of words. This has been discovered in a previous study. Michael Ullman, senior author of the study, said: “two studies suggest that children with Tourette syndrome may be fast at processing grammar more generally, that is, at rule-governed combination in language. This is a striking possibility, since grammar is so important in giving language its amazing flexibility and power”. Most neurodevelopmental disorders make assembling sounds difficult, which makes these findings a good indicator for diagnosis.

Study involved 17 children, aged between eight and 16 years, three of which had Tourette syndrome. They were asked to repeat a set of made-up words, which usually results in changing the word along the way. Although all children were similarly accurate in repeating a fake word, children with Tourette syndrome were faster. Scientists think that the same abnormality that causes tics in the brain also causes faster performance of other processes.

It is typical to look at condition searching for disadvantages and obstacles that the patients face. However, looking for potentially positive discrepancies from what we consider normal is very interesting and might have clinical implications, especially in effective diagnosis.

Source: NCL

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