Children and Tics: What Parents Should Know

People of all ages can experience repeated involuntary movements called tics, but they are most prevalent in children. Nearly one quarter of all children experience this genetic disorder that becomes most visible in school-aged children.

Common motor and vocal tics include:

  • Blinking
  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Neck twitches
  • Throat clearing or sniffling
  • Coprolalia, involuntary and repetitively utters obscene words

All tics tend to wax and wane in severity and frequency. The tics themselves can also change over time, says Dr. Mary Zupanc, chair of neurology and the director of CHOC Children’s pediatric comprehensive epilepsy program. This means that a child with simple childhood tic disorder can have repetitive eye blinking during one point in time, and during another phase, can have irregular but repetitive shoulder shrugging, and later, intermittent head twitching.

children tics
Dr. Mary Zupanc

Childhood tic disorders are very common in young children. It is a “spectrum disorder,”  with some children having only intermittent, isolated tics, and having multiple motor and vocal tics. If these tics last greater than one year, the diagnosis is Tourette’s syndrome, which is simply a more severe form of childhood tic disorder.

Preserving Self Esteem

“Tics alone will not hurt a child, but we certainly want to preserve a child’s self-esteem, and not allow them to be embarrassed by their tics. Vocals tics can be especially problematic in the school setting,” says Dr. Zupanc. “Often times, the biggest treatment of tics is reassurance to the child and family, in addition to providing education on when it is appropriate to suppress a tic or not. Family and child counseling are often important, so that the child maintains his or her self-confidence.”

Treatment Options

Medication may be recommended in some severe cases. Pediatric psychologists who have training in behavioral modification can help children learn to suppress a specific tic.

Tics often disappear around the time of adolescence in many cases of childhood tic disorders and Tourette’s syndrome, although there may be concurrent co-occurring health challenges that are more problematic, Dr. Zupanc says. Learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder frequently appear in tandem with either childhood tic disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.  These co-morbidities may require medications for effective treatment.

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Strokes in Children: What Parents Should Know

Many might picture a stroke patient as middle aged or elderly, but the reality is that the ailment occurs in people of all ages, a CHOC Children’s neurologist says.

A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain stops, and many types exist, Dr. Sharief Taraman says.

Dr. Sharief Taraman

  • Ischemic strokes, most common in children, prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain. This causes brain cells to die, and can result in permanent damage to the brain and body’s functioning.
  • In hemorrhagic strokes, which are uncommon in children, the blood vessel breaks, which floods the brain with blood and damages brain cells.
  • Perinatal strokes occur in babies near their time of birth, usually during delivery or right after birth because the infant lacked oxygen during delivery.

Stroke causes

Each year, between six and 13 of every 100,000 children will experience a stroke, and they are most likely to happen between a woman’s 28th week of pregnancy and one month after birth.

In older children, strokes are often caused by another condition that can affect blood flow to the brain, Dr. Taraman says. The largest risk factors for stroke in children include heart disease (19 percent), blood clotting disorders (14 percent) and dehydration (11 percent).  About a quarter of young stroke patients have a combination of risk factors.

Further, children with some, few or no vaccinations are more than seven times more likely than fully vaccinated children to have a stroke, Dr. Taraman says. This is likely because many vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as chicken pox, can injure the brain’s blood vessels.

Girls who have migraine headaches that show symptoms before pain begins – a type called “migraine with aura” – are also at a higher risk of stroke. Clinicians are still working to understand the connection fully. There is evidence, however, that some types of oral contraception can exacerbated the migraine-stroke risk. Patients should discuss the risks with their physician when selecting a medication, Dr. Taraman says.

What to look for

Signs of stroke vary widely in children, depending on their age and the resulting brain cell damage. Symptoms include slurred speech, blurred vision, memory loss or sudden weakness.

Children who have experienced a perinatal stroke sometimes tend to favor one hand more than the other. They may also grow normally, but development may occur at a much slower pace than other children. Those whose strokes caused more substantive brain damage may also experience seizures. Often, signs of perinatal stroke don’t materialize until months or years later.

It’s important that children who have experienced a stroke get medical treatment as quickly as possible. Parents who suspect their child has had a stroke should see a doctor immediately or call 911.

Stroke diagnosis, treatment

Strokes can be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms can be subtle and patients who have strokes often have another illness, Dr. Taraman says. To diagnose strokes, physicians rely on blood tests and a variety of imaging techniques.

Treatment varies among patients. Those who are diagnosed during the episode can receive medication that can off-set potential damage. Others may receive treatment for the underlying condition, such as a heart problem, or a resulting condition, such as seizure.

Regardless, children also require extensive rehabilitation that includes neuropsychology; developmental monitoring; educational intervention; and physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Most of the functional recovery occurs in the first two to three months after the stroke.

CHOC has a collaborative team to treat pediatric stroke aggressively. Learn more about the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute.

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Test your Brain IQ with this Brain Awareness Week Quiz

At what point does a headache become cause for concern? How rapidly and when does your child’s brain develop? The brain is a complex organ, and sometimes, it produces almost as many questions and it does thoughts (which is about 70,000 per day). To celebrate Brain Awareness Week, take this fun quiz to see how much you know about the brain:

  1. True or False- If kids and teens have headaches, they should automatically be referred to a specialist.
  2. True or False- A newborn’s brain is smaller than an adult’s brain.
  3. True or False- The most active time for brain development is during puberty, when adolescents are rapidly growing and changing.
  4. True or False- The brain is the most complex organ in the human body.
Dr. Mary Zupanc
Dr. Mary Zupanc, CHOC’s neurology division chair, and director of CHOC’s comprehensive epilepsy program.
  1. False- Headaches can occur for a number of reasons and are usually not a sign of a serious medical condition. Before seeking a referral to a neurologist from your pediatrician, first try:
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Drinking plenty of water
    • Eating regular, well-balanced meals
    • Exercising regularly
    • Stress relieving methods such as yoga or meditation
  2. True- At birth, a baby’s brain is one-quarter of the size of their mom or dad’s brain. It will double in size by their first birthday, and eventually weigh three pounds when it’s full grown.
  3. False- The period between birth and two years old is a very active time for brain development. Until puberty, brain development will use up almost half of the body’s daily energy intake. However, brains won’t fully develop until closer to age 25.
  4. True- The brain powers the nervous system, which affects and is affected by all the other systems in your body (cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and immune systems). It has 100 billion neurons- cells known as the gray matter which process information.

Learn more about the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute, where pediatric specialists are providing expert care at the only pediatric neuroscience hospital in the region.

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Preventing and Treating Concussions

CHOC Children’s multidisciplinary team of concussion experts can help prevent and treat concussions, as well as help patients ease back in to school and sports. Careful supervision is essential for young persons with concussions, since their brains are still developing.

In this episode of CHOC Radio, Dr. Sharief Taraman, a pediatric neurologist, Dr. Jonathan Minor, a sports medicine specialist, Jenn Ahlswede, a speech language pathologist, and Mollee Oh, a physical therapist and rehabilitation supervisor, discuss:

  • SCAT3, an assessment tool parents and coaches can use immediately after an incident occurs
  • The film “Concussion,” and how concussions affect kids and teens differently than adults
  • Recommendations for cognizant and physical rest periods after sustaining a concussion

Hear more from CHOC experts in this podcast.

CHOC Radio theme music by Pat Jacobs.

CHOC Children’s Patient Gives Back: Juneau’s Story

Juneau Resnick Speech

At 8 years of age, Juneau Resnick experienced a life-changing event. A close family friend, Gina, passed away after a devastating battle with brain cancer. Gina had devoted her life to working with infants in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Juneau, who spent the first 40 days of her life in a NICU, developed a special bond with her. Owing to her prematurity, Juneau developed hydrocephalus necessitating numerous brain surgeries. After a series of difficult events, Juneau’s parents transferred her care to Dr. Michael Muhonen, medical director of The CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute.

To honor Gina and to thank Dr. Muhonen and the CHOC team who did so much to improve her health, Juneau and her teacher came up with the idea of a fundraiser to coincide with the 100th day of school. In addition to passing out flyers, Juneau spoke in front of 700 people at a school assembly. She shared her personal experience with CHOC, and made a plea for each student to bring in 100 coins. Combined with a baked goods and lemonade sale organized by Juneau, the students’ donations totaled almost $1,000.

“She is truly passionate about helping others. She has an unwavering passion that I’ve never seen before and I work with kids,” says Juneau’s mom Ai, a substitute teacher. “I’ve seen a lot, and she is a rare bird.”

Juneau remains dedicated to continuing to raise money for CHOC. Every month, she partners with her teacher to sell pencils, erasers and other supplies at school to support an initiative dubbed Kids and K9, benefitting a local animal shelter and CHOC.

“I’m doing it to make kids happy and put a smile on their faces,” said Juneau. “I want them to forget where they are and just have fun.”

The young philanthropist is grateful for her renewed health and so happy to be under the care of CHOC Children’s.

Learn how you can start your own fundraiser for CHOC.