family laughing and lying on a picnic rug with their dog
family laughing and lying on a picnic rug with their dog

Is my child’s tic something to be worried about?

Almost everyone has their own certain habits, whether that's smoothing down your hair, clearing your throat before you speak or bouncing your leg.

Need to know

Almost everyone has their own certain habits, whether that’s smoothing down your hair, clearing your throat before you speak or bouncing your leg.

A tic is a repetitive movement and/or sound which is involuntary, brief, sudden and uncontrollable. Approximately 20% to 25% of school children will develop a transient tic which will disappear within a year and will not require treatment.

If your child has had tics for over a year, they might be diagnosed with something called Persistent Tic Disorder. For 80% of kids with chronic tics they often spontaneously improve during adolescence. Tourette Syndrome is diagnosed when a child has had two or more motor tics and at least one vocal tic occurring many times a day nearly every day for longer than a year.

There are two types of tics:

Vocal tics – these are repetitive sounds a person makes with their voice that they can’t control. They can include sniffing, throat clearing, grunting, barking and coughing. Complex vocal tics can include repeating one’s own words, repeating other people’s words (echolalia), or more rarely, using inappropriate language and swearing (coprolalia).

Motor tics – these are repetitive movements a person makes with their body that they can’t control. They include eye blinking, head shaking, jerking of the arms, and shrugging. Complex motor tics include a combination of movements like a facial grimace and a shoulder shrug. Some complex motor tics may look like they are being done deliberately, such as touching things, jumping, or twisting.

You might see an increase in your child’s tics if they are excited or anxious and a decrease when they are relaxed or concentrating. The tic will go away completely when your child has entered a deep sleep and return again once awake. Over time you might notice that a tic has completely disappeared and a new one will then replace it.

Why it’s important

Tourettes Syndrome can often occur with other conditions such as OCD, ADHD and anxiety. It is important to understand if your child has any underlying conditions as they usually help determine the type of treatment. Some stimulant medications can cause tics or increase the frequency and intensity of existing tics. Changing medications or changing the dose can resolve the issue.

For most kids their tics don’t get in their way and can simply be left alone without the need for treatment. If your child’s tics cause pain or stress, or they affect their social relationships or school performance, there are medications and behavioural treatments that can help.

Tips & strategies

Look beyond the tics – it’s important to observe your child for signs of anxiety and concentration issues. Addressing these issues can be more important than dealing with the tics themselves.

Don’t allow room for boredom – instead, keep your child busy with sport and physical activities, or with focused activities like puzzles, reading, building, etc. Tics often get worse when kids are bored. 

Make sleep a priority – this includes everything from having a predictable and relaxing sleep routine to ensuring that your child is getting the recommended hours of sleep every night. Predictable routines and quality rest have a positive influence on reducing tics.

Don’t focus on the tic – reacting to your child’s tic can actually make it worse. Avoid commenting on it or comforting your child when it is happening. The best approach is to pretend that it does not exist. You might need to talk to siblings about the importance of not focusing or commenting on their brother’s or sister’s tic.

Have options for all family members – your child’s tics may be seen as annoying or triggering for other family members, which can cause friction at home. Where possible give siblings opportunities to do other activities on their own. For those with sensory sensitivities it is worth investing in a pair of ear defenders to reduce the auditory stimulus.

If you are concerned about the severity or types of tics your child has, book in to see your doctor and get a referral for a neurologist. In the meantime, you can use the Keywell app to record the frequency and additional information about your child’s tics that you can share with clinicians.

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