Tics and/or Tourette’s syndrome are neurological conditions of unknown origin characterised by tics. Tics are vocal sounds or body movements that are made involuntarily (not on purpose) and are repetitive. People who have both vocal and motor tics for a minimum of twelve months may receive a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome if this is helpful to them.
Vocal tics can range from repetitive single noises like sniffing/grunting to more complex vocal tics, which may be a string of words that are repeated. Motor tics range from simple bodily movements such as blinking repeatedly to more complex motor movements such as twirling, jumping or a whole series of body movements that have to be repeated.
The key element to tics is that they are involuntary. The person is not making these noises or movements on purpose, and may at times not even be aware that they are doing them if they happen frequently. Tics can wax and wane over time and can occur in some environments (e.g. maths lesson) but not others (e.g. English lesson). Given this, sometimes other people do not believe that the sound or behaviour is a tic, and this can lead to problems.
People with tics can sometimes hold them in for short periods of time but this can take a lot of effort. Tics can also affect a person’s concentration as well as their self-esteem, particularly if they are asked to stop or are teased for their tics.
Tics are very common in childhood and most children tend to grow out of them. However for a small number of children their tics can persist and for those with Tourette’s syndrome, they can change over time and grow in complexity. Tics and Tourette’s can often peak between the ages of 8-14 and then as the brain matures, the tics can decrease. However, for others they can persist into adulthood.