Tics in Children

Tics (not to be confused with ticks, the arachnids) can be divided four ways: Motor or vocal and simple or complex. Motor tics are characterized by uncontrolled, repetitive movement of a group of muscles. Simple motor tics involve only one group of muscle, such as twitching the nose or head, blinking the eye, or biting the lip. Complex motor tics would include kicking, jumping, or mimicking movements, which require multiple muscle groups.

Simple vocal (sometimes called “verbal,” or “phonic”) tics may include coughing and throat clearing, barking, or hissing. Complex vocal tics, however, include repeating whole words or phrases, making animal sounds, or yelling out.

Tics may be broken down further by length of time. In provisional tic disorder — the most common — the tics have happened for less than a year. Chronic (or sometimes called “persistent”) tic disorder describes those that have occurred for more than a year and is less common. These are motor or vocal, not both. Thirdly, Tourette syndrome, a much less common tic disorder, involves more than one motor tic and at least one vocal tic, for over a year.

Tics may occur in stressful situations, or due to fatigue, boredom, high emotions, or over excitement.

No testing is usually necessary, other than to rule out more serious conditions such as dystonias, paroxysmal dyskinesias, choreas, other genetic conditions such as myoclonus, autism spectrum, OCD, and seizure activity.

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