Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff PhD LP

What is a Tic Disorder?

Chances are you have observed them in yourself or others, but may not have realized what you were seeing. A tic is a involuntary and repetitive movement or urge. Common tics include repetitive eye blinking, hand movements, and throat clearing. Tics are surprisingly common. In fact, 12-18% of school-aged children have tics and tics usually peak in intensity between ages 10-11. Tics are more common in boys and typically decrease in severity in adulthood. Tic disorders are a class of neurobehavioral disorders that are characterized by vocal and/or motor tics. Tourette syndrome is one example. It is also important to know that individuals with a tic disorder are more likely to show signs of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Is my child in control of his or her tics?

This is one of the most common questions I hear from parents and the answer is no. Tics are involuntary and often go unnoticed by the individual. However, there are changes that can be made at home and at school to substantially reduce the frequency and intensity of tics. Parents often worry that pointing out a child’s tics will make them worse. Research shows that addressing tics in treatment does not increase their frequency. However, we often encourage parents to ignore tics and focus on how well your child is addressing a tic when he or she notices it has happened. Shame and embarrassment often follow tics, especially in older individuals, and this can make them worse over time.

How is it treated?

A thorough assessment is important for understanding how to address each individual tic. Fortunately, researchers in this area have developed an intervention, knows as comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT), that is evidence-based and known to be effective. In fact, it has met the American Psychological Association’s criteria for a well-established intervention. CBIT can be used with children, adolescents, and adults. In addition, medication is often considered for more severe cases of Tourette Syndrome.

CBIT combines parent/social support strategies, function-based assessment, and habit reversal training. CBIT is highly structured and typically lasts 8-10 sessions. Most tics are preceded by a premonitory urge, often described as specific muscle tension, an itch, or feeling of anxiety or pressure. CBIT helps individuals identity the signs they are about to tic and then assists them in developing a competing response in order to stop the tic from occurring.

How can I get help?

Dendrinos Psychology specializes in CBIT for the treatment for tic disorders. Dr. Andrea Potthoff is trained in CBIT and relies on evidence-based techniques to treat tic disorders as effectively as possible. After conducting a comprehensive assessment, an individualized treatment is developed. We provide a supportive environment that helps individuals and families address both verbal and nonverbal tics. If you would like more information or to schedule an initial appointment, please contact us at 612-470-4099 or email us at andrea@dendrinospsychology.com.

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