Tic Disorders In Our School

Well, folks, when you can’t believe things could get any stranger in the world of raising families, something new pops up and blows everything before it away.

Warning: This is a long and winding post even though I cut out a lot of the extraneous stuff.

My mind is whirling because of a meeting at our local highschool about a troubling situation regarding a small group of students who have developed tic behaviors. It’s an odd occurrence and in our small town the rumors have been flying for months.

I first started hearing about it around September. All of a sudden, previously healthy, normal teenagers started having the jerking movements and vocalizations which many people associate with Tourette Syndrome. However, it was made very clear that these are tics, not Tourettes.

Since we have a teenage daughter in this school, we were obviously concerned. I went online to get info but it’s hard to sift through all the layers that run the gamut between fact and speculation. What I learned calmed my fears somewhat as most of the things currently believed to cause tics didn’t apply to my daughter.

The school sent letters home explaining they were looking into this and were bringing in experts, etc. Ok, they were at least communicating something.

Several times, my teenager came home saying someone else had developed the tic behavior. In one case, within a couple weeks, the girl was back to normal. What was going on?

At the meeting, we learned the state department of health (DOH), state dept of mental health, a research university, and the CDC were all brought into this. I think they were intitially intrigued by this case because only females were effected, when, statistically, tic disorders develop more often in males.

12 girls are currently effected (which seems like a small amount considering the publicity). All but one child are patients of a neurologist. Extensive medical workups were done on each child. Environmental studies were done on the school. They crunched the data, and ruled out environmental factors and infectious diseases and a few other things as causes. And they went into great detail about how stress makes all the symptoms worse. Well, duh.

But the actual diagnosis? The authorities are bound by confidentiality laws from revealing it. The spokesman for the DOH said it is also a matter of personal ethics for him, as he doesn’t want the girls to be “labelled.” It was disappointing, but completely understandable.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with parents who want to know what is going on and how to prevent their kids from developing these disruptive symptoms. Instead, we were told there’s nothing we can do to prevent it from happening.

Great.

Needless to say , the question and answer session got a little contentious. I’m afraid there are many more unanswered questions than answered ones.

The DOH claims a diagnosis was made for each child, but there were three or four families at the meeting claiming they were not given a diagnosis. It’s a mystery.

Some of those parents mentioned they were told about “conversion disorder.” I looked it up and found this definition helpful: “anxiety converted into physical symptoms.” Well, I’ve heard of stress causing ulcers, but this manifestation was  new to me. Perhaps this is why the DOH spent so much time talking about stress?

Apparently, those with OCD or even someone who has mild compulsive tendancies (and there are a lot of people who don’t realize they have them) can be affected simply by observing someone exhibiting the tics. Sounds weird, huh? Except my daughter witnessed something similar.

She and others were waiting outside a classroom when a child with the tics walked down the hall in front of them. One girl waiting with my daughter’s group, who had shown no symptoms before this, began making the same vocalizations as the girl walking down the hall. My daughter thought she was making fun of the girl with tics. But the second girl continued to make the sounds during the entire class and appeared unable to stop. I don’t know if it was temporary or not.

So the tics could happen in someone who is predisposed to such behaviors. However, this still doesn’t explain the beginning cause in the original group that developed this way back in September.

In the end, I think several people thought the bureaucrats didn’t want to tell the truth or didn’t know the truth.

So, without a definitive answer, people are left to guess and speculate – and get angry.

I could go on and on about all the different directions this situation has taken, but this is already long enough. So perhaps it may seem a real leap, but here’s my own personal conclusion:

I believe there were two separate groups of kids: one, smaller group of friends back in September, and the other kids that came singly later. Therefore, I believe there is more than one cause for these symptoms.

It is telling that in this small town, where news travels at lightening speed, it is unusually silent regarding the other girls effected by tics and their families. Either they haven’t been given a diagnosis, and it’s surprising they weren’t at the community meeting, or, more likely, I suspect the diagnosis may be embarrassing.

I don’t believe there is a conspiracy at work here or that there’s anything beyond the bounds of normal parenting that we can do.

In which case, I’ve learned enough about the situation to relieve my anxiety about my child’s safety.

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough for many, many people in this town.

It’s been very interesting to watch the progression of these events. It certainly grabbed at my writer’s brain.

It has illuminated the best qualitites in many people as well as the very worst and opportunistic in others.

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7 comments on “Tic Disorders In Our School

  1. R. H. says:

    My daughter, who was also healthy, started to have tics about 2 years ago. She is now 29 and we are still scratching our heads trying to figure out what is causing them. Her tics started out as movements, but now she also has vocalization tics. Stress, fatigue, and some environmental factors do seem to highten her episodes. We thought that it may have started due to an allergy or virus, or that she was exposed to chemicals at school (she was an art major at college) but it is very difficult to pin-point. The specialists at your school should check to see if there is a connection with allergies and viruses. Just to let you know, her neurologist has put her on Tegrital (sp.??) which does reduce the strength of the tics, but it does not stop them. She may have to change to L-dopa. The neurologist says the tics are caused by a miss firing and build up of nerve impulses in the brain which get overwhelmed and can only be relieved by the tic or vocalization. Please let me know if the specialists come up with something- it may provide a clue in helping my daughter.

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    • ekcarmel says:

      R.H., I am so very sorry your daughter has developed a tic disorder. I can imagine it is an enormous amount of strain on her as well as your family and I truly hope you get answers and a way to control it.

      I’m afraid I’m not close to any of the families where this has occurred in my town. I’m just the mom of a kid in the same school, watching it unfold, wondering if I’m doing the right things in this situation. If I hear of a definitive answer or treatment in our case, I will certainly update this post.

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  2. Angela/Curiocat says:

    Wow. I can’t blame you are the other parents from being so concerned. Things like this are frustrating especially when the folks in the know can’t or won’t share information. Doing your own research has given you peace of mind and that’s good.

    What I’m gathering is this is psychological. This is probably a huge leap but it reminds me a lot of those girls who accused all those people of being witches in Salem, MA. It started out with one girl having epileptic seizures then spread to others in a type of mass hysteria.

    I’m not saying this is the same type of horrific situation but I can see the similarity in certain behaviors spreading from one girl to another for whatever reason.

    Please keep us updated on what’s happening. I hope whatever the problem is stops spreading and everyone is ok.

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    • ekcarmel says:

      Thanks, Angela.

      You aren’t the only one to see the parallels with the Salem trials. The part of me that loves history and science certainly played with the implications for a while.

      Study of tic disorders is *relatively* new and there are so many different possibilities out there. As usually happens, established medical groups fight any new and unproven theory, no matter how promising, until a study (or several) prove it’s worth more study. Which takes more time and money. And of course this doesn’t help the people caught in the crossfire at the beginning.

      It truly is hard to know what to think or do about the situation. For the moment, I’m taking a wait and see attitude.

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  3. It reminds me of a book, The visions of Marpingan, events in I think the 19th century in Germany. The author looked at a lot of examples of seeing visions and other strange behaviour and he saw a pattern – an area that had once been busy became depopulated. Into the vacuum some girls started seeing visions. Not attention seeking behavior per se, but a sense of despair that the world has left them behind. Once some of them got attention for it, this encouraged others to do it – albeit unconsciously. Alternatively, try distractions – Betty Edwards Drawing with the right side of the brain i think talks of how stuttering stops when people are on trampolines – set another part of the brain to work and see if it changes.
    Good luck and hope this helps.
    Ps thanks for liking my post

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    • E.K. Carmel says:

      Thank you for stopping by! You know, your post which mentioned distractions reminded me so much of this situation!

      We have a neighbor who has been diagnosed with Tourettes, not just the tics described here, but in a similar category. When she is really concentrating on something, her outbursts disappear.

      I believe the media attention on this is causing the kids to focus on it more and it’s causing the symptoms to get worse. The concept of introducing distractions would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the kids are on Facebook, texting, tv, and this is everywhere. If I knew one of the effected families personally, I would mention it, because finding something else to occupy the mind (different part of the brain) would be of help.

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