Tics disorders can involve motor tics (i.e., eye blinking, neck and head movements, shoulder shrugging, movements of the hands, arms, and legs), vocal tics (i.e., throat clearing, sniffing, grunting, repeating words), or both. There are several different types of tic disorders that vary depending on the types of tics that are present and how long they have lasted. For instance, Tourette Syndrome involves the presence of both multiple motor tics, as well as at least one vocal tic, that have been persistent off and on for at least a year. Some tics, called complex tics, involve a sequence of motor movements or sounds that can look like purposeful behaviors but are not under the person’s control. Additionally, some of these behaviors can look like OCD-related rituals and a careful assessment is often needed to determine whether the behaviors are tics, OCD, or some combination of both. Tics typically start in childhood and the majority of people who experience tics in childhood will no longer have the symptoms by adulthood.
Tics are neuobiological in nature, but also extremely sensitive to the environment in which they occur. With this in mind, a promising new treatment has been developed: Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT). CBIT is a powerful behavioral technique that has reduced tic severity and increased overall functioning in many patients. This treatment consists of three important components:
(a) training the child to be more aware of tics,
(b) training the child to do competing behavior when they feel the urge to tic
(c) making changes to day to day activities in ways that can be helpful in reducing tics
To learn more about CBIT, as well as Tics and Tourette Syndrome in general, refer to the National Tourette Syndrome Association’s website.
Medications are a primary treatment for tic disorders, with many individuals benefiting from this approach. The Child Anxiety Center’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist can provide medication consultation and management in collaboration with your treatment team.