Understanding Tics During the COVID-19 Outbreak

With increased cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the pandemic has created a unique concern, especially for members of the Tourette community with coughing tics and caregivers on how they can educate someone on the difference between a tic and an illness. Tourette Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by sudden, involuntary movements and/or sounds called tics. They can include eye blinking, head jerking and facial movements — throat clearing, sniffing and tongue clicking. The Tourette Association of America is working to increase social acceptance and tolerance for people with Tourette Syndrome by providing a comprehensive guide in understanding tics:
Understanding Tics

“Tics can be simple or quite complex. Vocal tics (for example, coughing, sniffing, throat-clearing, or yelling out a word or phrase) and multiple motor tics (for example, blinking or shrugging the shoulders) must both be present for a diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome (TS), although they might not always happen at the same time.” says Amanda Talty, president of the The Tourette Association of America.

Tics change, and can wax and wane, more so in children than in adults with TS. For example, a student may have a sniffing tic for a time; then, a squealing tic develops, which may be in addition to the sniffing tic, or replace it. The only truly consistent nature of TS is the inconsistency.

Tics may appear to be purposeful. However, tics are neurological in nature. They are often described as urges that must be completed. Even when they seem to be expressed in reaction to a current situation, they are not within the control of the student with TS.

Suggested Strategy
  • Ignore tics. Disruption and distraction are subjective judgments – consider the dripping faucet – incredibly distracting to someone, while another person may not even notice it. So many noises during the day could be considered distracting. The same can be true of tics. A throat clearing tic becomes background noise when we know that it cannot be controlled; we know that it’s an involuntary symptom of a complex neurological disorder.

The following are some key takeaways to keep in mind: 

  • Tics are not intentional attempts at gaining attention or to be disruptive.
  • Tics should not be taken personally.
  • Tics are not simple habits that can easily be replaced or stopped.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach for tics.

Additional resources that may be helpful during this time are the “I have TS” ID card or the “What is Tourette Syndrome” brochure. The “I Have TS” card can help those being impacted by tics such as coughing, sniffling, or clearing throats.