What are tics?

Tics are unexpected twitches, movements or sounds that happen often and are hard to control. They can happen many times each day, and could happen every day. 

There are two different kinds of tics:

  • motor tics, which are movements you can’t control
  • vocal tics, which are words or sounds you can’t control

Certain things can make tics more likely to happen. For example, some people find that their mood affects their tics (e.g. that their tics happen more if they are anxious, excited or tired), while others find that tics happen more often in certain places (e.g., happening more often at home than at school) and many people with tics experience them more often if people notice and focus on them.

Tics are quite common and often start at around age five. Many people find that their tics improve over time and don’t need treatment, but they can get in the way of everyday activities.

What is Tourette’s syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome affects the nervous system and this can cause people to have tics.  Tourette’s syndrome can run in families. It usually starts when children are young and is often noticed by about seven years old. As you get older, you might start to be able to control your tics and sometimes they can stop entirely as you become an adult.

Getting help

Often tics only last a few months and most children and young people who experience tics do not have Tourette’s syndrome. However, if your tics don’t stop on their own then you should talk to your GP.

Your GP will be able to give you advice on whether you need more specialist help. If they think that you could have Tourette’s syndrome then they might refer you to a specialist. They will try to understand whether your tics could be part of Tourette’s syndrome or a symptom of another health condition, or whether they are unrelated to either of these. They will also ask about the impact of your tics on your everyday life (including at school, with your family and your friendships).

If you have Tourette’s syndrome and need support with another mental or physical health problem then you could be referred to CAMHS or child health services depending on the specific problem.

Planning treatment

Tics often do not need any treatment. If you do have treatment, this will not cure the tics but can make them less frequent or more manageable. It’s also important to remember that tics can come and go, which can make it difficult to tell whether a treatment is helpful.

If you need treatment, then your options will depend on how the tics are affecting you and whether you have any other mental or physical health conditions.

Treatment options for tics are similar whether or not they are part of Tourette’s syndrome. These options include:

  • psychoeducation, which everyone should be offered after being diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome
  • behavioural therapies, which are usually suggested as a first treatment option
  • medication, which is usually suggested as a second treatment option.

Other treatments include:

  • botulinum toxin injections for tics in a particular area of the body
  • surgery for severe tics that have not improved after other treatments, but this is usually only for adults.
Additional support

The below organisations offer tics and Tourette's Syndrome support specific support for children, young people and their families:

  • ADHD Foundation: UK charity offering support for those living with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, DCD, Dyscalculia, OCD, and Tourette’s Syndrome
  • AFC Crisis Messenger: a free, confidential, 24/7 text message support service for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or is struggling to cope. If you need support, you text AFC to 85258
  • Child and Adolescent Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Service: national NHS service supporting young people with OCD and related conditions including body BDD, tic conditions and Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Childline: Childline is there to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through. Whether it’s something big or small, their trained counsellors are there to support you
  • Supportline: charity offering helpline for people of all ages on a wide range of issues including anger, eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and addictions
  • The Mix: support and advice for children and young people under 25

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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