What is a Tic Disorder?

What is a Tic Disorder?

Envision yourself at the airport, about to catch your flight. Your father is getting scanned at security, when all of a sudden you start shouting “bomb” and “ I have a knife in my pocket.” You immediately explain your tics, so that everyone around you, especially the security guards with their huge guns, knows you are not actually a terrorist. After finally reaching the airplane, you start shouting again. You feel the stares, hear the snickering, and see faces filled with fear. Now you must explain yourself again, but this time over the intercom so that everyone in the vicinity can be reassured that they will not die today. This is not the first time this has happened and it surely will not be the last. For some with tic disorders, this is an everyday reality.

For many, tic disorders have caused much trouble early on in their childhood years; children with tics often face discrimination, reprimands, etc. Because the children and their classmates are unaware of the causes of their tic, they are often labeled as troublemakers, and subsequently bullied. This was the case for a child named Matthew who was bullied and ridiculed after being unable to hide his tics. “Then Matthew started jerking his head and shoulders and making little humming sounds. Sometimes, in school, the humming would get quite loud and the teacher would complain. Some of the children in his class began to tease him and call him mean names, like ‘Matthew the jerk’.

Miscommunication is often a central theme in the experiences of those with tic disorders. It is assumed that those with Tourette’s Syndrome only have a cursing tic and most people do not realize that this not as common as most people would think. People often perceive those with tic disorders as being disrespectful, believing that the tics are intentional and calculated. This is not the case, as those with tic disorders cannot control their tics. Suppressing the tics only worsens the condition, as the anxiety associated with repressing the tics oftentimes actually causes symptoms to flare up further. Some have even been told that they must be possessed, a prime example of how tic disorders are often misinterpreted.

Tic Disorders are neurobehavioral disorders, and the most common among them being Tourette Syndrome (TS). Tics are involuntary, sudden, non-rhythmic, repetitive movements or vocalizations. Motor tics include eye blinking, facial grimacing, head twitching, nose wrinkling, shoulder shrugging, tapping, etc. Vocals tics may be exhibited as barking, coughing, grunting, humming, sniffing, throat clearing, etc. Tics may either be simple or complex. Simple tics are brief and involve a single muscle group. Complex tics are lengthy and include a number of simple tics.

There are three types of tic disorders, including Tourette’s Syndrome. In order to be diagnosed with a tic disorder, one must have two or more motor and vocal tics that have lasted for at least a year. Tics should have occurred before the age of 18 and occur multiple times a day. For Persistent (Chronic) Tic Disorder, one must have one or more motor or vocal tics multiple times a day before the age of 18, but one cannot have both a motor and a vocal tic. Provisional (Transient) Tic Disorder, on the other hand, must have one or more motor or vocal tics before the age of 18, but must not be present for 12 months consecutively.

Although some people simply deal with their tics and accept it as part of their daily routine, others seek therapy. This may not be the case for all due to shame, embarrassment, lack of healthcare resources, etc. Habit reversal therapy may help those with disorders as well as counting tics. For habit reversal therapy, “A competing movement is done for three minutes after each tic and after each sensation that a tic is about to occur.” Comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT) has also been proven to help, which includes “guidance for parents on what makes tics better or worse, relaxation techniques and strategies to reduce tic severity.”

Though some individuals have had their tics improve or disappear, many have not. Tic disorders do not stop an individual from living their life, but rather may be a barrier that they must overcome and learn to adjust their life to. Individuals with tic disorders are absolutely able to pursue their dreams and goals, and have historically made profound contributions to various fields. Amongst them are Samuel Jackson, who wrote the first English dictionary, and even David Beckham, a world-famous soccer player. For many, tic disorders have helped them to not only embrace themselves as they are, but have also taught them to appreciate and accept diversity within those around them.


Fistell, Shane. “My Life With Tourette’s Syndrome.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/opinion/my-life-with-tourettes-syndrome.html.

“Matthew & His Tics – A Story for Young Children.” Tourette Association of America, www.tourette.org/resource/matthew-tics-story-young-children/.

“Tics and Tourette Syndrome | CHADD.” CHADD – The National Resource on ADHD, www.chadd.org/understanding-adhd/about-adhd/coexisting-conditions/tics-and-tourette-syndrome.aspx.

“Tourette Syndrome (TS).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Apr. 2018, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/tourette/diagnosis.html.

“Tics & Tourette Syndrome.” Chorea & Huntington’s Disease, www.movementdisorders.org/MDS/About/Movement-Disorder-Overviews/Tics–Tourette-Syndrome.htm.


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