Tics in Teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

"I'm 16 years old and I have ASD [level 1]. My parents and my friends tell me that I'm always blinking my eyes. Does everybody with autism have tics? What causes it? What can I do to stop it?"

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can have many complications such as tics. Tics are rapid sudden movements of muscles in your body. Tics can be vocal, too. Both kinds of tics are very hard to control and can be heard or seen by others. However, some tics are invisible (e.g., toe crunching, building up tension in your muscles).

Simple tics involve just one group of muscles and are usually short, sudden and brief movements such as twitching the eyes or mouth movements. Some simple tics can be head shaking, eye blinking or lip biting. Simple vocal tics can be throat clearing, coughing or sniffing.

Complex tics involve more than one muscle group and are longer movement which seem more complex such as jumping, hoping, touching people, hitting yourself or pulling clothes. Other complex vocal tics can be repeating words of others or yourself all the time or repeating out loud what you have read.

Tics may increase as a result of negative emotions such as stress, tiredness or anxiety. But they may increase due to positive emotions as well, such as excitement or anticipation. These emotions are often experienced in those diagnosed with ASD. A strong urge can be felt before the tics appear, but sometimes with intensive therapy, these urges can be suppressed. When tics - or urges to have tics - are suppressed, there can be a build-up of other tensions or even stress. Often when the tic is gone, those who suffer from it feel a sense of relief.

Whenever kids with ASD focus their energy on something else (e.g., laying computer games or watching TV), their tics often decrease due to relaxation and/or distraction.

Shoulder shrugging is one of the most common simple motor tics. Others include:
  • eye blinking
  • facial grimacing 
  • head twitching
  • jumping
  • kicking
  • lip biting
  • nose wrinkling
  • repetitive or obsessive touching

Common vocal tics include:
  • barking
  • coughing
  • grunting
  • hissing
  • sniffing
  • throat clearing

Transient vs. Chronic Tics—

It's perfectly normal to worry that a tic may never go away. Fortunately, that's not usually the case. Most tics are temporary and are known as transient tics. They tend to not last more than 3 months at a time.

In rarer instances, children have tics that persist for an extended period of time. This is known as chronic tic disorder. These tics last for more than a year. Chronic tics can be either motor or vocal, but not both together.


Tics can sometimes be diagnosed at a regular checkup after the doctor asks a bunch of questions. No specific test can diagnose tics, but sometimes doctors will run tests to rule out other conditions that might have symptoms similar to tics.

Embarrassment Associated with Tics—

ASD children and teens don't see themselves having a tic (they're not walking around with a huge mirror at all times). So it's only natural that they may think that their tic is the worst tic ever. Of course it isn't, but it's still a concern for those who "tic." And these exaggerated thoughts can cause unnecessary feelings of embarrassment or worry, and actually make the tic worse.

Nobody wants to make tics worse, but is there any way to make them better? While you can't cure tics, you can take some easy steps to lessen their impact. Here's how:
  • A tic? What tic? If a friend of yours has a tic, don't call attention to it. Chances are your friend knows the tic is there. Pointing it out only makes the person think about it more.
  • Avoid stress-filled situations as much as you can — stress only makes tics worse. So get your work done early and avoid the stress that comes with procrastination and last-minute studying.
  • Don't focus on it. If you know you have a tic, forget about it. Concentrating on it just makes it worse.
  • Get enough sleep. Being tired can makes tics worse. So make sure to get a full night's rest!
  • Let it out! Holding back a tic can just turn it into a ticking bomb, waiting to explode. Have you ever felt a cough coming on and tried to avoid it? Didn't work out so well, did it? Chances are it was much worse. Tics are very similar.

In certain cases, tics are bad enough to interfere with someone's daily life, thus medication may be prescribed. Don't let a little tic dictate who you are or how you act. Learning to live with - and not pay attention to - the tic will make you stronger down the road.


Anonymous said... Thank you for this information. my son just developed a new tic today....rolling his eyes. i will surely have to explain this to his teacher. he has other simple and complex tics such as rubbing his face to the point of developing chaffing and rubbing his hair.he also tugs his clothing and clears his throat. i can now explain these actions . thanks heaps from a mother of an amazing aspergers kid.

Anonymous said... What bout high pitch screams? My son does alot iv tryd everthin to stop it nothin works iv bin kickd out of shops ppl shoutin at me to shut him up

Anonymous said... Thats wot my boy does 2, anybody wud fink im killing him, hav evn had 2 explain 2 my neighbours about him. an gemma dont let anybody make u feel that way, just explain that he has sensory special needs n if they dont understand that then id complain!! x

Parenting Aspergers Children - Support Group said… Re: screams. Screaming is a form of tics. With all tics, trying to stop them - and giving a lot of attention - makes it worse. Cardinal rule re: tics -- the more attention you give them - the more they grow.

Anonymous said... Im finally starting to accept my son has this syndrome..along with adhd n ocd as well..i know hes as tired n misrable as i am with his mind always spinnin but i choose not to medicate.we tried some n he was a zombie n now ive learnd he has a gland disease

Anonymous said... And hormone issues..i just wonder if this is a big part of his difficultys..hes only 5 years old..hes starting school in aug n i know they very much pressure adhd parents to medicate..i refuse.n they refuse to give him an aid n said he cud go 2 special ed

Anonymous said... Well aint happening! He is super smart,just needs 1 on 1 guidance from someone who cares n understands but they refuse to fund it..any suggestions??

Anonymous said... i understand your desire not to medicate. i found for years and years and finally gave in at age 7. my son could not function and was about to be put on a 72 hour hold he was getting so out of control. i was the biggest advocate for living holistically but my son (I actually have two boys on the spectrum) is by far doing better and now can actually benefit from his behavioral therapy instead of just hearing it but not taking it in at all. i would try a company called native remedies and see how their homeopathic stuff works before anything else. try behavioral therapy and see how it goes. e mail me if i can be of further assistance because i am not sure if i will get a message about this thread or not.....sometimes when it is a page you do not get the alert that someone posted back.

Anonymous said... My son has started sniffing constantly!! I am going to start hypnosis on Sunday. Hope that helps!!

Anonymous said... Thanks 4 advice guys ur all great an help me loads threw this x

Anonymous said... My son as gone through a lot of tics from eyetwiching blinking moveing head now lates ones are looking up anr round with his eyes and he keeps saying he has to touch things hard with his finger he i in the process of going throug cahms etc i think he has asd as he has had all symptoms since being a baby he is 8 now.

Anonymous said... Just be you . You blink more but you see and notice more than others . It's a gift .. It may not feel like it now but treasure it and own it . I get a twitch in my left eye now and then . It's normal you don't need to learn or change anything . Your perfect just the way you are.

Anonymous said... My 14 year old son has a tic disorder which causes him to blink. He does not have autism / aspergers but my older son does we have tried many things. But the more attention you or others pay to it the more you will do it. Eliminate sugars and other stimulants, get lots of sleep, and try to reduce your stress smile emoticon good luck buddy!

Anonymous said... My 9 year old son was recently diagnosed with Aspergers and has had tics for some time...eye blinking & clearing his throat. We were told by NHS he may get help with relaxation techniques to help combat stress/anxiety but still waiting! He is often aware of the tics but we try to not make a fuss/ignore them & distract or calm him.

Anonymous said... My son 7 has ASD and has just been diagnosed with tourettes.. he has rapid blinking of his eyes and a neck twitch, which was very noticible especially when he became anxious. He was also anxious and annoyed him when it happened because of frequency. He is now on medication ( not implying to anyone to medicate each to own) but his has improved and he also has told me he doesn't feel the tics anymore. 

Anonymous said… My son does. Docs say it's his way of stemming or relieving built up tension.

Anonymous said… My son who is now 15 had a tic where it sounded like he was clearing his throat and a tic where he shrugged his shoulders constantly. These started to interfere with daily life such as school. His neurologist put him on medication for about 2 years. He quit the medicine about 8 months ago and the tics have not returned yet. We are hoping he has outgrown them. He always said he didn't control them his body just needed to do it.

Anonymous said… My son has had throat clearing, grimace style winking and most recently deep breaths that sound like an asthma attack (but isn't!). He's not aware of when he has tics and we just ignore them so he doesn't get anxious. They always go away pretty quick. I also let school know so that they don't think he's just trying to be annoying  😊

Anonymous said… Yes my sweet fella does- but got worse w ADHD meds -

Anonymous said… I wouldn't try stopping them unless they were bothering you. Probably make it worse if you tried to control it.

Anonymous said… My 15 year old does that loud, discusting throat clearing sound. My husband thinks he can get him to stop by taking away computer time but I dont even think he is aware of it most of the time. @ Beth- what medication helped?

Anonymous said… My son would do that, sometimes he picks it up still, he managed to stop himself. Every time he would do it I'd tell him,..." you're grunting kiddo, reign yourself in."

Anonymous said… The last thing you want to do is make him feel he is doing something wrong. Our school had daily behavior reports that my son was aware of. He never had so many tics develop as he did during that time. I put an end to the daily critique and in no time he was able to overcome his hyper sensitive awareness to 'be perfect'. See my comment below.

Anonymous said… I can ask him if he can remember what triggered the throat clearing/grunting and how he was able to stop himself from doing it. Maybe he can offer your son some help.

Anonymous said… Medication can cause tics and so will anxiety. Self-calming techniques are best.

Anonymous said… My son developed many tics while going through daily behavioral reports in school [all the students did]. I stopped his reports because he was becoming overly critical of himself. He started setting his feet straight before sitting, reaching for the doorknob several times before opening it, excessive handwashing, grunting etc...we got him to stop doing them all in less than two months. The only one we could never conquer [since early childhood] was the skipping back and forth after school, or after sitting for long periods, accompanied with flapping. I talked to him recently about it because he is going to be 16, and he is conciously making an effort to recognize when he is doing it an applying himself to end it. We would gently tell him whenever he was ticcing and that he needed to reset his thoughts or reign it in. He did the rest himself. No meds, no punishments.

Anonymous said… We believe the skipping and flapping is from idling too long. He gets off in his own, more enjoyable world and runs around in it for 15 minutes or so.

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