A record number of adolescents with dramatic and unusual displays of tics disorders, including verbal outbursts and exaggerated jerky movements, have sought immediate treatment in emergency departments and clinicians’ offices since 2020. The young patients had, in many instances, never been diagnosed with tic disorders like Tourette’s.
In an American Academy of Neurology online forum, Pringsheim and Dr. Davide Martino, movement specialists at the University of Calgary, saw a message.
A doctor in Kansas City, Missouri, wrote, “My practice has seen an unprecedented increase in young adolescent women with what appears to be acute explosive motor and vocal tics.”
The same had been observed by the neurologists in Canada. The majority of these new patients were not typical Tourette syndrome cases, which typically affect boys and begin in early childhood.
Typically, Tourette’s tics are straightforward movements such as blinking or coughing, and they fluctuate over time. On the other hand, new patients frequently had tics that seemed to have appeared overnight and were rushed to the emergency room. They were unrelenting, elaborate movements that were frequently accompanied by funny or hurtful remarks.
The nervous and brain systems are involved in tic disorders. Tic disorders are more prevalent in children with ADHD than in other children. OCD, anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and learning or developmental disorders are examples of co-occurring conditions. According to the CDC, boys are more likely than girls to suffer from tic disorders.
The CDC says that there are times when children exhibit behaviors that are not typical but look like tics. For instance, despite not having a history of tics, some children exhibit complex motor and vocal tics-like behaviors for the first time. This can happen to a group of kids, like classmates at school. Teenagers are more likely than adults to exhibit atypical tics due to underlying factors such as stress, anxiety, and exposure to social media posts.
A cognitive-behavioral approach was at the center of the rehabilitation program. This approach looked at the psychological cause of the problem and helped kids learn better ways to deal with it.
Two things had to be accepted by the patients: that their twitches were partially under their control and that they did not have Tourette syndrome. They had to be eager to improve.
Patients saw a speech therapist, a dietitian, and a psychiatrist, among others, for eight to ten hours a week for six months. The adolescent talked about being bullied at school, growing anxiety about their gender, and how isolated they had become during the pandemic in therapy. They stopped using TikTok and began taking antidepressants.
According to Dr. Rachel Hnatowich, a psychiatrist at Alberta Children’s Hospital who assisted in the treatment of the patients, “it was giving parents permission not to respond.” She asserted that doing so would assist in eliminating the “meaning and power” of the illness.
Although the evidence is largely anecdotal, some experts attribute the recent rise in tic disorders among teens with underlying vulnerabilities to social media. Researchers say that after watching videos of people with movement disorders on TikTok and YouTube in particular, many of these patients reported abrupt, uncontrollable, and sometimes severe behaviors. The journal Movement Disorders reports that new-onset tic-like behaviors have increased significantly among adolescents and young adults.
Over 4 billion views have been received for the hashtag #tourettes on TikTok videos. According to the Journal, researchers think this phenomenon could be an “example of behaviors, emotions, or conditions spreading spontaneously through a group.”