Chronic Motor Tic Disorder…What is it?
Chronic Motor Tic Disorder, much like Tourette Syndrome, is a condition in which people experience fast, unvoluntary movements in various places on their body or sudden vocal outbursts. Unlike Tourette Syndrome, they will experience either motor tics or vocal tics, but not both. When more than one motor tic AND a verbal tics are present, the condition is referred to as Tourette Syndrome. Transient or Provisional Tic Disorder is when the person experiences the tics for a year or less. When the tics breach a full year, it then becomes chronic tic disorder and can be referred to either chronic motor tic disorder or chronic vocal tic disorder, dependent upon which type of tic the person is experiencing.
It is believed that this disorder is caused by physical or chemical abnormalities in the brain such as neurotransmitters misfiring. Though doctors are not entirely sure what causes this condition as of yet. Previously, doctors thought that chronic motor tic disorder was being triggered as a side affect of medications that were used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Though recently, studies have shown that this is not the case. It seems to be more common in boys and typically lasts 4 to 6 years.
Tics usually start around 5 years old and typically don’t start to improve until the child reaches the age of 12, sometimes carrying on into adulthood. Chronic tics may be a form of Tourette’s Syndrome, although Chronic Motor Tic Disorder is more common.
People are usually aware of the tics they are experiencing but may not associate them with being tics. Children especially do not understand why they are happening, they just sort of feel the need to do it. Tics are unvoluntary, so the person doesn’t have much control over it. They can sometimes postpone the tic for several moments but will not feel relief until the tic is carried out. Sometimes people experience abnormal sensations in the area where the tic occurs until it is carried out.
One of the most heartbreaking stories for me to recall for my son is related to his tic disorder. My son was sitting in church one Sunday and just could not stop clearing his throat. His tics were worse at the time because he was visiting family out of state and so was out of his normal routine. My son was told several times during church to stop clearing his throat and when he couldn’t, he was told that he was disturbing everybody. He was only about 5 years old at the time and could not yet verbalize his feelings to the extent that he could explain a tic. The family member that told him that did not understand that he couldn’t help it so it left him feeling embarrassed and hurt.
Symptoms of Tic Disorder
Much like other developmental conditions, the symptoms of Chronic Motor Tic Disorder vary from person to person. The type and intensity of tics varies from person to person and each person may experience varying levels of intensity.
- Facial grimacing
- Lip smacking
- Rapid blinking
- Jaw popping
- Nose twitching
- Head jerking
- Sudden jerking or stretching of the limbs
- Contractions of the abdomen or diaphragm
- Throat clearing
- Sudden verbal outbursts
Diagnosis of Chronic Motor Tic Disorder
Doctors and Pediatricians usually diagnose Tic Disorder during a regular examination without the need for any specific tests. The disorder is diagnosed when the tics have been present for a year or more and when the periods of time where tics haven’t occurred do not last more than 3 months at a time. They also must have started before the child turned 18.
Chronic Motor Tic Disorder Treatment
Much of the time, tics do not need to be treated as they will eventually be outgrown and don’t have too much of a negative impact on the person. But sometimes the tics are more severe and can affect daily activities such as social life, work and/or school. In these cases, doctors may prescribe medications, such as dopamine blockers, to help reduce or prevent tics. But these medications can have negative side affects like movement problems or stunted thinking, such as confusion or paranoia.
Children may also be referred to a psychotherapist or behavior therapist for treatment. Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) has been shown to improve the symptoms in children, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This approach teaches children to recognize the internal urges of tics and replace the tic with a more acceptable response.
Children who develop this disorder between ages 5 and 8 typically recover on their own within 4 to 6 years. However, if the disorder develops when they are older and continue into their 20’s, they may or may not outgrow the condition.
One key aspect for proper chronic motor tic disorder treatment is an accurate diagnosis. Other disabilities can mimic this disorder, such as Tourette’s Syndrome or Epilepsy. So getting an accurate diagnosis is vital to treating the disorder most effectively. Medications often tend to have negative side effects so it is always important to ensure that the most effective prescription is ordered when medicinal intervention is necessary.
Also, don’t be too quick to dismiss labels on children. Remember that there is a huge difference between negative labels and medical labels. The medical diagnosis that you might consider a label just might be the exact thing a child needs in order to get the help that they deserve.
If you’d like to help me raise some awareness on these “invisible” conditions that are often largely misunderstood, please hit share and get the word out.