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What is chronic motor or vocal tic disorder?

A child with chronic motor or vocal tic disorder has tics they cannot control. Tics are sudden movements or sounds that happen quickly and repeatedly. If a child’s tics are all movements, they are diagnosed with chronic motor tic disorder. If the tics are all sounds, the child is diagnosed with chronic vocal tic disorder. If the child’s tics are both movements and sounds, they are diagnosed with Tourette’s disorder instead.

A very small number of children have a vocal tic that causes them to curse or say inappropriate things. This is called coprolalia.

What are the symptoms of chronic motor or vocal tic disorder?

Tics are the main symptom of chronic motor or vocal tic disorder. Tics are movements or sounds that the child cannot control.

Common motor tics include:

  • Shrugging their shoulders
  • Blinking
  • Biting their lip
  • Frowning

Common vocal tics include:

  • Clearing their throat
  • Humming
  • Sniffing
  • Snorting
  • Squealing

Some children say they feel uncomfortable before a tic. This is called a “premonitory urge.” Those children often feel better right after the tic.

How is chronic motor or vocal tic disorder diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with chronic motor or vocal tic disorder, a child must have at least one tic for at least a year, starting before age 18. The tics must be either movements or sounds, not both.

Some children have more than one tic at the same time. Some children have tics that happen during different periods of time.

What are the risk factors for chronic motor or vocal tic disorder?

Boys are more likely to have tics. Children have more tics when they are feeling anxious, excited or tired.

How is chronic motor or vocal tic disorder treated?

Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder can be treated with behavioral therapy and medication.

Therapy

The most common behavioral therapy for tic disorders is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) called habit reversal training. It involves:

  • Teaching the child to recognize the feeling before a tic.
  • Helping the child understand what situations cause their tics.
  • Practicing doing something different when they know they will have a tic. This action will be something that is not as obvious to others. For example, a child whose tic is sniffing can learn to do a breathing exercise instead.

Medication

There are several medications that a doctor can prescribe to help control the symptoms of tic disorders. Neuroleptic medications are most common. Children who take medication for tic disorders should be monitored by an experienced medical professional.

Risk for other disorders

It’s common for children with tic disorder to experience other mental health disorders. These conditions can include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression.