Is My Child’s Recurring Behavior a Tic?

Is your child displaying frequent eye-blinks, shoulder shrugs, sniffing noises, or other repetitive movements or sounds? If so, your child might have tics. Tics are sudden, recurrent, non–rhythmic movements or vocalizations. They usually emerge between the ages of 4-6 years and generally affect males more often than females. Tics are often preceded by “premonitory urges”; unpleasant somatic sensations that typically occur in the area of the body involving the tic.

Tics are more common than we once thought, with many (5-15%) school-age children displaying transient tics at some point during childhood. Transient tics typically go away on their own.  If the tics persist or worsen over time, your child may have a chronic tic disorder. Chronic tic disorders, including Tourette’s syndrome, frequently involve multiple motor and vocal tics, and can be accompanied by an array of behavioral problems, including symptoms similar to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Other repetitive movements that may mimic tics include stereotypies and compulsions. Stereotypies are typically rhythmic and do not vary in body location or movement type as tics do. Compulsions are generally carried out in order to reduce the discomfort associated with anxiety or worries. If you think your child might have tics, it might be worth meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in treating them, especially if the behaviors are causing any kind of impairment. The first-line intervention is Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT), a behavioral intervention which trains patients to: be more aware of their tics and pre-tic sensations/urges, engage in a competing behavior when they feel the urge to tic, and make changes to day-to-day activities in ways that can be helpful for reducing tics.