Children affected by movement disorders, such as Tourette syndrome or dystonic cerebral palsy, have trouble controlling their movements. Until recently the medical care of these children has focused on the physical aspect of these disorders. However, many families tell us that their child's movement problems are accompanied by emotional and behavioural problems. Often the emotional and behavioural challenges are the ones causing the greatest suffering for the child and their family.
These observations prompted Dr Michelle Lorentzos, a Paediatric Neurologist, to explore the scope of psychiatric problems in children with movement disorders. Under the supervision of Prof Russell Dale, and in collaboration with clinicians from The Children's Hospital at Westmead and tertiary centres in London, Michelle undertook a PhD through the University of Sydney. This project assessed psychiatry in more than 260 patients with a range of movement disorders and compared these to children in the general population. Importantly, she found that children with movement disorders were four times as likely to have a psychiatric disorder than children in the general population. Anxiety disorders were the most common. Frequently these psychiatric disorders were under-recognised and under-treated.
Findings from this study were recently published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood and can now guide clinicians in actively screening for emotional and behavioural problems, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment. Michelle was also awarded the Peter Bancroft Prize for Research Work from The University of Sydney for her work in this area and intends to continue her interest in this area by developing tools to support children and families with neurological disorders.