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What You Need to Know If Your Child Has Uncontrollable Tics
PHOTO BY courtesy of Makati Medical Center
  • Around preschool age, our kids will have these tics or gestures that they tend to repeat every so often especially when they see it gets your attention (and annoys you). But it is movements they voluntarily make. Kids who have Tourette syndrome, however, cannot control their tics -- they are not doing it by choice.

    Also known as Tourette’s or TS, Tourette syndrome is a disorder that causes people to make involuntary body movements (motor tics) and vocal outbursts (vocal tics). 

    “Motor tics can affect any part of the body. An example is involuntary eye blinking,” explains Dr. Myrna Fojas, a pediatric neurologist at Makati Medical Center's Department of Pediatrics. Other examples include shoulder shrugging, and head jerking. 

    “Vocal tics are involuntary sounds like coughing, sniffing, yelping or grunting,” says Dr. Fojas. 

    Tics begin in childhood typically during preschool age, but symptoms can show up as early as age 2 or as late as age 17. “Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome,” according to Mayo Clinic. 

    A disorder that affects the brain and nervous system, Tourette Syndrome can also be accompanied by conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), learning disabilities, and anxiety. 

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    A child diagnosed with TS, he will have multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic, with the former usually developing before the latter. Tics can either be simple or complex. Those mentioned above are simple tics. Common complex motor tics include touching objects, repeating observed movements, bending and hopping. Complex vocal tics include repeating words and blurting out swear words. 


    “Most tics are mild, but some can worsen in stressful situations. Some tics can also cause pain and physical injuries to the person affected, like headaches, muscle strain, and soreness,” says Dr. Fojas. 

    “Severe symptoms might significantly interfere with communication, daily functioning, and quality of life,” Mayo Clinic says.

    The cause of TS is still largely unknown. Experts do know, however, that it’s genetic. Some research also points to faulty connections between nerve cells or chemical imbalances in the brain.

    “Like other diseases, there is no absolute cure, but the tics can be managed,” says Dr. Fojas. Behavioral therapy like Habit Reversal is the most studied intervention for tics, according to Dr. Fojas.  

    Habit Reversal requires monitoring tics and learning a new habit or movement that cannot occur the same time as the tic. For example, if the tic is head rubbing, the new behavior could be placing the hands on the knees or crossing your arms so that head rubbing will not take place. Reducing stress may also help people with TS since it can aggravate tics.

    Not all kids with tics necessarily have TS. Many children develop tics that go away on their own after a few weeks or months. But, as with all unusual behavior and troubling symptoms, it’s always best to talk to a doctor or a professional to rule out anything serious.  
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    If your child has TS, here are some tips on how parents can help alleviate symptoms as provided by KidsHealth and Tourette Canada

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    • Get busy. Some experts say that tics are milder or less frequent when the person is engrossed in an activity. “Sports, exercise, or hobbies are great ways for kids to focus mental and physical energy,” says KidsHealth. Creative activities like playing an instrument, painting or writing may help as well. 
    • Provide a supportive environment. Suppressing or holding back a tic can be tough and requires a lot of concentration and focus. Children who do so will find it very hard to do anything else, like participate in class or play with other kids. And usually, a tic can only be suppressed for a short time before it’s eventually released. Create a safe environment for your child where he feels accepted. It would go a long way in his treatment. 
    • Learn about it together. “Having a condition like TS is not the fault of the person affected, nor is it the fault of their parents. It is simply a condition that must be managed and understood,” says Dr. Fojas. Learning about TS together can help your child cope with his condition. Teach him how to respond to people who don’t understand his disease or how to handle teasing.  

    “People with Tourette Syndrome are constantly teased, hindering their chances at socialization and bonding with children their age,” says Dr. Fojas.  “Understanding and having the initiative to know more about TS will not just help those affected but those around them as well.”

    Sources: Mayo Clinic, KidsHealth, WebMD, Tourette Canada

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    Tics begin in childhood typically during preschool age, but symptoms can show up as early as age 2 or as late as age 17. “Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome,” according to Mayo Clinic. 
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