Motor tics are repetitive, involuntary movements. They are like an itch that just must be scratched – a person may wait or delay the urge to tic, but in the end, just has to do it. A tic can manifest as eye-blinking, shoulder shrugging, head bobbing, upper body jerks, knee bending and any other repetitive movement. Some include head-banging and picking at one’s skin in this category as well, although these behaviors are technically disorders in their own right.
If the tics last less than a year and cause distress during that time, they may be diagnosed as “transient tic disorder.” If they last more than a year and are never absent for more than three consecutive months, and they cause some distress, they may be diagnosed as “chronic tic disorder.”
If motor tics occur along with vocal tics (grunts, barks, coughs, words, mental words and so on), causing significant distress, then “Tourette’s Syndrome” might be diagnosed. Only a doctor or clinical psychologist can provide an accurate diagnosis. All tics are thought to have a biological basis and some medications can “unmask” (trigger) a latent tic condition. Medications for ADD/ADHD, for instance, have been known to trigger tic disorders in vulnerable individuals. The term “nervous tic” does not pertain to motor tic disorder. One needn’t be nervous at all to have a tic disorder. In fact, tic disorders are thought to be inherited and related to other brain disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and ADHD. Indeed, many kids have all three disorders together.
Helping Your Child with Motor Tics
Although “causing distress” is part of the diagnostic criteria of a motor tic disorder, it is a fact that PARENTS might be more distressed by the child’s movements than is the child him or herself. In fact, the parent may feel anxious or very annoyed by them. There can be a definite urge to scream “STOP DOING THAT!” However, tic movements are outside both the realm of the parent’s control and the child’s control. This lack of control can also cause distress to the child. Children may find their movements to be embarrassing in public situations. For this reason, they may strive to hold back an urge to tic while out of the house, only to “let loose” once in the privacy of home, “tic’ing” with a vengeance. It’s like having an itch that you stall until you get home and then you scratch madly to address the build-up of the tension.
Asking the child to refrain from doing his or her tic DOES NOT WORK and may even lead to an increase in tic activity because of the stress that the demand induces. When children feel watched or rejected for making movements, they’ll actually make MORE movements!
Although chronic tic disorders are considered to be really chronic – lasting a lifetime – many people do experience spontaneous remission. That is, the tics just disappear on their own at some point. Sometimes neurological or psychotropic medications can help and may be an appropriate intervention when motor tics are severe and having a negative impact in the child’s life. Speak to your doctor about these possibilities. Sometimes behavioral therapies can help (find a psychologist who is experienced in the treatment of tic disorders). Bach Flower Remedies have helped many people with tic disorders (consult a practitioner for an individualized, appropriate formula for your child) and some people have benefited from homeopathic treatment and other alternative treatments. EFT (emotional freedom technique) may help some people with tic disorders. In fact, any form of alternative medicine that reduces physical and mental stress, may have a beneficial effect on the course of a tic disorder – one must experiment in order to find out if a particular treatment will help his or her child. And, as stated previously, some children and teens just “grow out of them” over time.