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Increase in reports of tic-like behaviors reported in children and teens connected to pandemic, experts say

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Since the beginning of the pandemic, many doctors have reported an increase in the onset of tics or tic-like behaviors, especially in children and young adults.

Experts believe these symptoms may be related to time spent on social media platforms like TikTok. The symptoms may be motor or phonic and may involve twitching or repeating noises.

Dr. Amal Abu Libdeh is the director of Tic and Tourette’s Clinic at UVA Health and says they’ve seen an increase in the occurrences of tic-like behaviors.

“Tics can be in so many different shapes and forms, both the motor ones and the phonic ones. The motor ones typically involve various types of movements, maybe a combination of eye blinking, head jerking, shoulder shrugging,” Abu Libdeh said. “As far as the phonic tics, these can be as simple as simple sounds but may be as complex and involve saying or repeating certain words or phrases.”

However, Abu Libdeh says the symptoms aren’t indicative Tourette’s Syndrome. She says Tourette’s tends to take affect around ages 5-7, but these new behaviors are happening often in teen girls. Tourette’s is more common in boys.

She adds that while Tourette’s evolves slowly, this condition comes about abruptly. While it’s still neurological, it’s not Tourette’s, Abu Libdeh said.

In fact, she agrees with other experts that the cause might be in our palms.

“We realized most if not all teenage girls that were presenting with the phenomena happened to be following certain accounts on TikTok for patients that claim to have Tourette’s disorder or claim to have Tourette’s disorder,” Abu Libdeh said.

These accounts often show people experiencing tics, like unintentionally repeating words or phrases. Many believe viewers may accidentally mirror those symptoms.

As far as the demographic the tics tend to attack, the answer isn’t exactly complicated.

“It has been shown that these apps are more likely to be followed by teenage girls. Really, when it comes to TikTok, that tends to be followed by mostly teenage girls,” Abu Libdeh said.

On top of that, she says people who have a history of anxiety, depression or ADHD may be more likely to see this happen.

“With the stress that has been associated with the pandemic, and we feel it may have led to worsening with their underlying conditions,” Abu Libdeh said.

Abu Libdeh notes these symptoms may be more common in people with mental disorders, but she says that doesn’t mean they’re any less real. With that, she says they should be treated as a very real condition.

If you notice these symptoms occurring in you or those around you, Abu Libdeh says toevaluate the severity of the symptoms. If the tics are minor, have a conversation. Find out if they watch the videos that might cause a mirroring of symptoms, and suggest they take a break from socials.

If the symptoms are severe, she says make an appointment with a specialist to have the situation evaluated, which is key to an early and proper diagnosis.

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