A new University of Miami Health System multidisciplinary program has been designated a Tourette Association of America (TAA) Center of Excellence. As one of a select few centers in the United States, the UHealth Tics, OCD and Related Problems program will provide leading-edge clinical care for these neurodevelopmental conditions.
“We are thrilled that our new program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences has received this prestigious designation,” said director Barbara J. Coffey, M.D., M.S., professor of psychiatry and chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Our center is fully aligned with the Miller School of Medicine’s neuroscience pillar.”
The TAA designation is significant because it recognizes medical institutions that offer the highest level of care, conduct groundbreaking research, provide training and education, and serve as advocates for patients and families dealing with Tourette syndrome and other tic disorders, according to Dr. Coffey. “In addition to evaluation, consultation and treatment services, we want to help families, health care professionals and teachers understand how to manage these conditions,” she added.
Dr. Coffey has focused her professional career on tics, and serves as co-chair of TAA’s Medical Advisory Board. She was recently honored with the 2019 Virginia Q. Anthony Outstanding Woman Leader Award from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The new UHealth program takes a collaborative approach to addressing repetitive motor, verbal and combination tics, according to co-director Jill Ehrenreich-May, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Child and Adolescent Mood and Anxiety Treatment (CAMAT) Program on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. “These neurodevelopmental disorders are often found in children who also have anxiety, depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),” she said. “It’s exciting to offer children and families coordinated care that includes comprehensive behavior interventions as well as medications.”
Dr. Ehrenreich-May added that the UHealth program will also provide specialized training to clinical psychologists and doctoral students, as well as medical students, psychiatry fellows and other allied professionals.
Other partners in the collaborative UHealth program include the Miller School’s Department of Pediatrics and the Movement Disorders Division in the Department of Neurology under the direction of Carlos Singer, M.D. “Through coordinated interdisciplinary team-based care in this center of excellence we can make a real difference in the lives of our patients with Tourette syndrome,” said Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., professor and Olemberg Chair of Neurology, executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute, chief of neurology at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital, director of the UM Clinical and Translational Science Institute; and senior associate dean for clinical and translational science.
The program will also draw on the extensive resources of the Miller School’s Mailman Center for Child Development. “We believe the best outcomes for young patients with complex tic disorders come from a team-based approach that includes patients, families, and all relevant professionals,” said Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., professor and executive vice chair of pediatrics and Mailman Center director. “We are proud to contribute our experience with research, training, clinical care, and public policy to the new TAA center.”
Vocal, motor and combination tics in children can vary greatly in severity, said Dr. Ehrenreich-May. “Transient tics that come and go are relatively common, while the incidence of complex tic disorders like Tourette syndrome is much lower,” she said. “While tics can develop at any time, they are most often seen after age 5 or 6, and often become less intense in adulthood,” she said. “Treatment may involve training children in other activities, and learning other ways to manage triggers like stress.”
Dr. Coffey said the new program will also conduct clinical trials for children and adolescents, including therapies that are not commercially available. “We are constantly looking for new avenues for effective treatments,” she said. “That’s particularly important for the 30 percent of children who do not get better over time.”
Parents who observe a transient tic, such as a repeated eye blink, should monitor the child’s situation for changes, said Dr. Ehrenreich-May. “If the tic becomes more persistent or if the child has related problems like hyperactivity, anxiety or depression, it’s important to get a comprehensive evaluation.”
The UHealth program is currently accepting referrals of people of all ages. For more information, contact Maria Cruz at 305-243-6489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.