Motor and vocal tics are impacting kids and adults all across the country, and experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has made things more difficult for them.

What You Need To Know

  •  Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month runs through June 15

  •  Experts say stress and other disruptions from the pandemic have made things more difficult for people with the condition

  • Related: More information on Tourette Syndrome

According to the Tourette Association of America, one in every 100 people in the U.S. has a tic disorder; and one person in every 160 has Tourette Syndrome.

Over the past year, the lockdowns and challenges brought on by COVID-19’s spread have made tics worse for many people living with Tourette Syndrome — and for those just now finding out that they or their child has the condition. 

Five-year-old Sebastian isn't shy at all — he's happy to show off his favorite toys while surrounded by family.  He and his big sister, Camila, always have energy to play together in the evenings. 

“They love to talk, they love to play, they’re jumping around all the time,” said Sebastian's mother, Liselle Vega-Cortez. 

For years, they’d noticed Sebastian making funny faces or humming, but didn’t think much of it until the pandemic hit. 

“During the pandemic, it was very, very hard. We could see more ticking frequently,” said Sebastian's father, Jorge Cortez. 

“He got a lot more anxiety and a lot more stress and we saw it in the tics and in his behavior,” Vega-Cortez said, nodding in agreement. 

With virtual school keeping them home full-time, suddenly their 5-year-old boy was anxious, unable to focus on class and would have tics that wouldn't go away.  It got to a point where Vega-Cortez said his teacher noticed too, asking them about the tics. 

“And I said, 'Yes, he’s been ticking for a long time but that’s going to go away,'" Vega-Cortez said. "I brushed it off. I thought this is totally normal, he’s just going to stop doing it. And that’s when she said, 'I think you should talk to the pediatrician about it.'” 

“It’s a lot more common than you’d think,” said Heather Simpson, an occupational therapist and clinic coordinator with the Tourette Center of Excellence at University of Florida Health.

Throughout the pandemic, Simpson — works closely with kids and adults with Tourette Syndrome and tic disorders — said she’s seen a big increase in people coming in for help with tics seeking care.

The Center is often so busy that kids and adults needing appointments have to be put on a waitlist because of demand. 

“We have seen a big shift in our clinics, not necessarily just at UF Health but with my colleagues across the country and we’re not really sure why,” Simpson said. 

Part of the reason, Simpson said, is tics can grow worse from the loss of social engagement or having to watch yourself tic on a video call. But pandemic stress has also played a big part. 

“We do know that with anxiety, and the pandemic caused a lot of anxiety for all of us with or without tics, that worsens tics,” she said. 

Managing the neurodevelopmental disorder is possible — sometimes with medications, but often is greatly improved by behavioral therapy, Simpson said.

Spreading awareness of Tourette Syndrome, too, is key in helping ensure that people don’t call attention to or tease if a child or adult tics in front of you, Simpson said. 

That push for more awareness is exactly why over the past month Sebastian and his family hit the sidewalk most nights to walk around their neighborhood as part of “Miles for Tourette."

They're raising money for Tourette Syndrome, and with each step, spreading awareness so that Sebastian grows up knowing his tics don’t have to hold him back one bit. 

“These kids, they just need the right tools," Vega-Cortez said. 

“And the support, too," Cortez said. 

Tourette Awareness Month runs through June 15.  If you think you or a family member may be experiencing tics — talk to your doctor or pediatrician about it.