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Many parents of children with autism have a growing list of questions surrounding their children and certain behaviors. One of the biggest questions that most parents have has to do with autism and tics. Here’s what to know about this behavior and how it applies to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


What Are Tics?

Before diving into the specifics of autism and tics, it’s important for parents to understand what tics are. Tics are “semi-voluntary responses to involuntary sensations.” They are typically recognized as fast, repetitive muscle movements that can result in sudden and difficult-to-control body jolts or sounds.


There are both tics that affect body movement (also known as motor tics) and others that result in a sound (known as vocal tics). Here are some of the most common examples of tics:


  • Blinking
  • Wrinkling the nose
  • Jerking head movements
  • Clicking the fingers
  • Touching other people
  • Focused touching things in front of you
  • Grunting or sniffing
  • Repeating certain sounds or phrases


Tics can come in a number of forms, but the most important thing to remember about tics is that they can’t be controlled. Sometimes tics happen randomly, but other times they can be linked to stress, anxiety, tiredness or excitement.


What Is the Connection Between Autism and Tic Disorders?

Tic disorders are highly genetic and neurodevelopmental in nature. They typically develop due to an imbalance in dopamine and other brain chemicals within specific regions of the brain.

It is believed that the relationship between autism and tic disorders is likely because they are both genetic and neurobiological in nature—however, more research is needed on the topic.


When it comes to the relationship between tics and autism, researchers have found tics are common in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Tics also affect approximately 1 percent of the population and are not mutually-exclusive with autism.


Due to the strong overlap between the two, sometimes it’s difficult to discriminate between complex tics and symptoms of ASD. These tics typically start in childhood, and according to one 2016 study, up to 12% of autistic individuals have tics.

Is Tourette’s Syndrome A Form Of Autism?

While studying individuals with Tourette’s syndrome, a condition that is hallmarked by a number of tics, it was found that approximately one in five children also met the criteria for autism. Tourette’s syndrome is a co-morbid condition to ASD, meaning that an individual can be diagnosed with both conditions.


So, although there are similarities between the two, they are two very different conditions that would have separate diagnostic criteria.


Tourette’s syndrome is a condition that causes both verbal and motor tics. These tics must be present for at least one year and can occur frequently throughout a day, or more sporadically to be Tourette’s syndrome. These tics can include both simple tics and complex tics. Here’s what to know about the two.


  • Simple tics. These are the more common of the two types of tics and are generally movements that are brief, sudden and repetitive behaviors that use limited muscle groups. This includes eye blinking, facial movements or head jerking.
  • Complex tics. These are tics that involve several muscle groups at once. They come together to form coordinated and distinct patterns of movement. This may include a combination of facial movements with moves like shrugging (two simple tics at once). It can also include other large motor movements like jumping or bending.


While it can be concluded that individuals with Tourette’s syndrome are more likely to have autism, Tourette’s syndrome is not a form of autism.

What Are the Different Types of Tic Disorders?

Tourette’s syndrome isn’t the only type of tic disorder. There are other tic-related syndromes and conditions, including the following. These may be a comorbid diagnosis with autism.

Chronic Motor Tic Disorder

Chronic Motor Tic Disorder is characterized by verbal or motor tics that occur for at least one year. This means that an individual will display one or more motor or vocal tics, but not both.

Transient Motor Tic Disorder

Transient Motor Tic Disorder on the other hand, may include both facial ticks as well as tics in the arms, legs or other areas. There can be multiple types of tics at once with this condition

These tics tend to get worse with stress and do not occur during sleep.


Stimming VS Tics in Autism

Stimming is a common side effect of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and while it has some similarities to tics, it is not the same thing. Stimming is classified as repetitive movements that serve the purpose of people with autism soothing or comforting themselves.

Stimming appears when the individual is stressed out, nervous, or overstimulated in an environment,


Stimming involves an unexpected movement of body parts, such as flapping hands, repeating words, rocking, and blinking.


Tics, on the other hand, are commonly involuntary and harder to suppress than stimming. Tics can be brought on by stress or they can occur for no apparent reason at all. Tics can also be much less noticeable in nature, such as an eye tic, or simply feeling he needs to touch everything.


Tics are not done in an effort to self-soothe like stimming behaviors are.


How to Help Treat Tics in Children with Autism

If you have a child with autism who struggles with tics, then you may be looking for ways to treat these tics. Here are some of the most common therapies and treatments you can use in order to help treat tics.

This includes the following.


Behavioral Therapy For Autism and Tic Disorders

 Behavioral therapy is perhaps the most common solution for helping individuals with autism and their tics. Behavioral therapy is often recommended for both autism and tic disorders separately in children.


More specifically, there is a form of behavioral therapy called habit reversal therapy (HRT). In order to treat tic disorders, it’s important for children and their therapist to identify possible triggers.


ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is another very trusted and effective form of therapy that many children with autism use in order to improve certain behaviors. This includes helping children with their tics. ABA therapy is an intensive approach that is used to help improve social behavior among children with autism and can help children get the skills they need to reduce problem behaviors.


Tics are an unfortunately common side effect of ASD, but the good news is, with better understanding of tics and the right therapy, many kids with autism are able to get the help they need to keep these tics under control. 


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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