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Understanding tics: what they are, what to do.
Q: My son is 20 months old and has what we feel is a strange behaviour: he does a weird rolling of his eyes and shakes his head back and forth, over and over. He does it a few times a day, usually in the evening when sitting on the couch with my husband. When we call his name he is totally aware and will stop this motion for a minute and pay attention, then continues to do it for a couple minutes on and off. We wonder if this is normal or if it is a sign of something. Because it’s rather infrequent, I say we shouldn't worry too much; but when he does it it's rather upsetting and annoying.
A: Sandi, it’s good that you’re observing your son’s behaviour closely. The repetitive movements that you’re descoting are also known as “tics.” Approximately 10% of children have tics that last from several weeks to a year and then disappear. Sometimes they develop during times of stress such as starting a new child care, the birth of a sibling, moving homes, or toilet training. If the tics increase in frequency and persist over time, however, they could be a sign of neurological problems.

Be sure to talk with your pediatrician about your son’s symptoms. It would be particularly helpful if you could keep a diary of when and how long they occur, and make a videotape of your son’s behaviour so the doctor can observe the movements. The doctor will do a thorough exam and may recommend evaluation by a neurologist. Depending on what their assessment shows, they may recommend treatment to help prevent these movements.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician