Researchers have found that children with Tourette's syndrome—an inherited neurological disorder with onset in childhood, have the propensity to learn certain mental grammar skills much faster than their peers without the disorder.
According to neurologists at Georgetown University Medical Center and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the findings suggest that abnormalities in the brain linked to tics in Tourette's syndrome may also result in a range of rapid behaviours, and possibly, superior skills than had been appreciated ever before.
"These children were particularly fast, as well as largely accurate, in certain language tasks. This tells us that their cognitive processing may be altered in ways we have only begun to explore, and moreover in a manner that may provide them with performance that is actually enhanced compared that of typically-developing children" said senior researcher Dr. Michael Ullman, Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, Neurology, and Linguistics.
As per the background information in a report published in the journal Neuropsychologia, tics in Tourette's syndrome can include eye blinking, repeated throat clearing or sniffing, arm thrusting, kicking, shoulder shrugging, or jumping.
In a study, eight children, aged 8-17, with Tourette's syndrome, and eight typically developing children of the same ages without the disorder were given tasks that included producing past tense forms. All of the children had a normal IQ.
The researchers noted that children with Tourette's syndrome were significantly faster than the control group in producing rule-governed past tenses (such as slip-slipped), which depend on grammar and procedural memory.
But they were not so efficient in producing irregular past tenses (such as bring-brought), which are stored in declarative memory.
When given a picture-naming task to test their motor skill and conceptual knowledge, children with Tourette's syndrome responded significantly faster than the control group in naming pictures of objects that can be manipulated (such as hammer), and thus depended on motor skill knowledge.
They, however, were not so good in naming pictures of non-manipulated objects (like elephant), which depend only on conceptual knowledge.
The motor skill knowledge associated with manipulated objects also depends on procedural memory. But unlike in the past tense task, where some accuracy was lost to the speed of the response, the researchers did not observe any loss of accuracy in the picture-naming test by children with the disorder.
"This may mean that the brain abnormalities we see in Tourette's syndrome may lead not only to tics but also to a much wider range of unsuppressed and rapid behaviors," Ullman said.
The researchers are now developing new language and memory tests for patients with Tourette's syndrome.