What is it?
People with tics make quick or sudden movements or sounds that are repeated. These "tics" seem to have no reason and cannot be controlled. As tics are involuntary, children do not choose to do them. Some people with tics are not even aware they are doing them. Tics are quite common in children – in fact, up to one in five children has experienced tics. Tics come and go, and may resolve on their own. Examples of common tics are throat-clearing or eye-blinking. In some children and youth, the tics become more obvious or happen more often when they are feeling stressed or anxious. They may also occur alongside mental health conditions.
Tics can appear on their own or as part of a tic disorder. One type of tic disorder is tourette syndrome. A child or youth may be diagnosed with tourette syndrome if their tics:
- are both motor (physical) and vocal tics
- have lasted for at least a year
- began before the age of 18
- are not caused by a medical condition or a side-effect of medications or other drugs
How do I know?
The first tics usually appear in children before they are 10 years old. The tics usually affect the head and neck areas, but they can affect other areas as well. At this stage, they tend to come and go. In children who develop tourette syndrome, the worst symptoms tend to happen when they are between 9 and 13 years old. A lot of children eventually outgrow their tics, but some children will continue to have tics into adulthood. If tics are not causing significant distress or impairment, the best thing to do is ignore them.
What can be done?
Parents or caregivers should talk to a doctor if they think their child or youth might have tics or tourette syndrome.
Some children and youth with tics may also experience mental health challenges, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Your doctor can help to figure out whether the child has any of these other conditions.
It can be helpful to learn more about tics, and explain them to family, teachers or other caregivers.
Where to from here?
Talk to your doctor first. Your doctor can help you to determine what may be causing the tics and what you can do about it. As mentioned above, tics can be caused by a medical condition, may be a side effect or a medication or drug, or may occur on their own. If the tics are causing significant distress or impairment, or you think there may be other mental health concerns as well, your doctor can help to refer you to a specialist and/or mental health professional who can provide further support.