Tics and Tourette Syndrome

Tics and Tourette syndrome are neurobehavioral disorders that may begin in childhood or adolescence. A tic disorder affects a person’s central nervous system and causes uncontrollable, repetitive movements or sounds. It can be like an itch you don’t want to scratch, but can’t help it.

New Research for Tics and Tourette Syndrome

Previously, psychologists and psychiatrists primarily treated tics and Tourette syndrome through pharmaceuticals. However, new research has shown that through the work of occupational therapists and neurologists, behavioral modification and habit reversal therapies are highly effective in treating tics.

Jan Rowe leads the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Treating Tics and Tourette Syndrome program at Children’s of Alabama, also known as CBIT. It’s one of 10 locations in the country designated as a Center of Excellence for treating tics and Tourette syndrome. This non-pharmaceutical, behavioral program usually consists of eight sessions.

“We basically teach the children strategies to use when they feel the tic coming on or when they’re ticking,” Rowe said. “We call it ‘competing response,’ and when they use that competing response, it makes the tic impossible to happen. That interrupts the tic’s cycle, the tic stops and then they no longer have to use that strategy.”

CBIT at Children’s of Alabama treats children from across the nation for tics and Tourette syndrome with a 90 percent success rate.

Diagnosing Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders

Rowe says Tourette syndrome is a type of tic disorder. It’s diagnosed when a child has at least one vocal tic and two motor tics that have lasted longer than a year. If a child is younger than 18 years old and has only one tic, whether it’s motor or vocal, then the diagnosis is a tic disorder.

Tourette Syndrome

  • At least one vocal tic
  • Two or more motor tics
  • Lasting one year or longer

Tic Disorder

  • One motor or vocal tic
  • Under the age of 18 years old

Rowe said while tics and Tourette syndrome are neurologically based, stress is a significant contributing factor.

“Stress is a huge trigger for tics,” Rowe said. “That’s good stress or bad stress. It could be caused by a child looking forward to Christmas or spring break, or it can be seen in a child who is worrying about a math test.”

Rowe advises parents that if their child becomes aware and bothered by signs of a tic disorder or Tourette syndrome to contact CBIT at Children’s of Alabama at 205-638-6820. For more information, visit

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