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Tic Disorders

As children grow, they become more aware of those around them and how they appear to others. Children with tic disorders may grow self-conscious and withdrawn as they can become embarrassed at others noticing their tics, no matter how small.

What are Tic Disorders?

Tics are sudden, uncontrolled movements or sounds a child makes. Tics can happen anywhere on the body and are completely involuntary; the child has no control over them.

A tic disorder occurs when a tic – or the embarrassment of a tic – impacts a child’s ability to function in their daily life.

Tics can change over time, or go away and come back. Many children outgrow tics as they reach the end of puberty. If a child has a tic that lasts consistently (does not go away) for more than one year, it may be necessary to consult a licensed healthcare provider for evaluation for Tourette syndrome.

Symptoms of Tic Disorders

Tics can happen anywhere on a child’s body, but common examples include:

  • Squinting or blinking
  • Sudden vocal expressions, such as “huffs,” grunts, or clearing the throat
  • Picking at fingernails or skin
  • Sniffing or wrinkling the nose

Treatment of Tic Disorders

While there is no official test for diagnosing tic disorders, your child’s healthcare provider can conduct a physical evaluation and interview you and your child to determine if a tic disorder is suspected. They may also recommend additional tests to rule out that there is another cause of the tic disorder, such as a brain injury or neurological disorder.

Once a diagnosis of a tic disorder has been determined, your child’s healthcare provider will work with your child and with you to develop the best treatment plan. Treatment for tics may include therapy, including habit reversal training, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy where the child is taught to recognize the urge that precedes an upcoming tic. Habit reversal training also helps a child identify situations that may trigger tics and then develop a “competing response” or action they can do that is incompatible with the tic (for example, taking a deep breath instead of a tic of throat clearing). Therapy may also include learning relaxation techniques to help decrease the frequency of tics. In addition, medicine may be prescribed to help control the symptoms of a tic disorder.

Preventing Tic Disorders

There is no known cause for tic disorders, but there are things you can do to prevent them from worsening, such as encouraging your child to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep and physical activity. These can help reduce your child’s stress and anxiety, two things that can worsen a tic disorder. Additionally, be aware of your child’s mental health: are they feeling embarrassed or self-conscious? Are they experiencing bulling at school? Staying in tune with your child’s mental health will help create an open conversation that can help reduce your child’s stress and anxiety about their tic.