Winter 2004
Ask the Expert: Tics

My 10-year-old son has developed a habit of blinking his eyes, stretching his neck, touching his nose, and making a little coughing noise. It’s been going on for months, and he can’t seem to stop. Should I be concerned?

S.K. Nallainathan, MD, a pediatric neurologist affiliated with Bridgeport Hospital, responds:

S.K. Nallainathan

Involuntary movements such as those your son makes are called tics . Have you ever experienced the brief twitching of an eyelid or a cheek muscle? These are transient (temporary) motor tics. You know that you can’t control those movements. Neither can your son control his tics, except sometimes for brief periods.

Tic disorders can occur in 15-20 percent of all children. They are more common in boys than in girls, and they may start as early as age 2 or as late as 21. Vocal tics involve noises—throat clearing, sniffing, repeating words, etc. Motor tics involve muscles: head-jerking, nose-twitching, etc. A simple tic may something like blinking the eyes. Complex tics include jumping, touching the nose, or head banging.

It’s important to realize that tics are not a psychological disorder. In fact, most tics are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. They usually last less than a year. Even if they last longer, they often disappear in adulthood.

Should you be concerned about your son’s tics? I’d advise you to ask your pediatrician about consulting a pediatric neurologist. There are many ways to manage tics, including counseling to reassure the child, and medication (if symptoms interfere with daily life), but therapy can help your child to handle any social or emotional problems they may cause.

Meanwhile, what can you as a parent do? First of all, know that punishment is not helpful, since your child can’t control the behavior. Don’t call attention to the tics. Make sure your son has plenty of opportunities to take part in activities like sports, art, or playing in the school band. Not only are tics less frequent when the child is happily busy, but these activities can bolster self-esteem. Make sure he gets plenty of sleep, because fatigue can make the tics worse. If he has difficulty with schoolwork, you might want to find a tutor to help him keep up.

Talk to his teachers about his tics, to make sure you are all on the same page regarding how to help him cope with the disorder. Make sure the teacher understands what form the tics take in your son, and knows that your son is not acting this way on purpose.

Tics themselves are not dangerous, and most children learn to cope with them quite well with the help I’ve mentioned.


For a referral to an expert physician, call Bridgeport Hospital Physician Referral at 888-357-2396

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