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What are Vocal Tics?
Vocal tics are involuntary and compulsive phonic expressions, such as noises, hiccups, words or repetitive phrases and they can be classified as either simple or complex. Simple vocal tics, also known as phonic tics, include simple sounds such as grunting, barking, coughing, hissing, sniffing, snorting, throat clearing or a habitual sniff. Complex vocal tics such as palilalia or coprolalia involve more complex expressions such as repeating words, phrases and sentences. Vocal tics vary in content and severity between individuals.
Some people with vocal tics will repeat their own or other people’s words or sentences (echolalia) or using obscene words, having swearing outbursts, or generally uncontrolled vulgar language (coprolalia). In some cases, vocal tics can interfere with normal conversation and may disrupt the constant flow of normal speech, while in other cases vocal tics are mild and less noticeable.
What Causes Vocal Tics?
The cause of vocal tics is not fully understood, however, there are a number of factors that seem to play a role, including genetics, diet deficiencies (particularly magnesium), anxiety, and certain medications. Other factors such as stress, fatigue, illness, and excitement or over-stimulation can make vocal tics worse or excessive.
Vocal tics are also a common symptom of Tourette’s syndrome, although for a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome to be made, the individual has to experience motor tics as well as the vocal tics and they have to have had tics for one year.
More Information on Vocal Tics
Tips for concerned parents
- Understand how the tics affect your child and make changes at home and school to best accommodate them.
- Try not to draw too much attention to your child’s tics and don’t make them overly concerned about them. Doing so will make your child feel more anxious and will more than likely worsen the situation.
- Keep a record of your child’s tics, (when they get worse and the events that surround them). This may help identify triggers. Be careful not to cause your child more stress – approach this in a way that makes your child feel secure.
- Realize tics are not done on purpose. Although tics may frustrate you, do not punish your child for having tics, and try not to show any frustration you may feel. Doing so may increase your child’s anxiety and cause more tics.
- Make sure your child is not having caffeine which is present in sodas, coffee, tea and chocolate.
- Teach your child how to relax and de-stress. Try teaching your child deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
- Encourage regular exercise. Sports and outdoor games are great ways to instill a love of exercise which will ultimately reduce stress levels.
- Ensure that your child is eating enough magnesium. Magnesium rich foods include green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
- Make teachers aware of the problem and ask them to handle it with great sensitivity. A child with vocal tics may not want to be called on to read out loud, but this should be a decision that the child helps to make.
- Many children withdraw socially as a result of vocal tics. Encourage confidence in your child, and make them aware that tics are nothing to feel ashamed about.