Tic Awareness Exercises

By Leslie E. Packer, PhD, 1994 (revised 2010)

It’s generally helpful to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to gain insight into their experience, so here are two simple exercises to help you. In both cases, you will be simulating tics while trying to function.

Exercise 1

As you read the text in the box below, frequently jerk your head back hard and fast. Try to do the head jerk in bursts — like two or three rapid jerks. Wait a few seconds, and do another hard, fast head jerk, or another burst. Do it frequently throughout your effort to read the material. If you have a physical condition that prevents you from jerking your head back hard, do the exercise the same way but instead of jerking your head back hard and fast, roll your eyes severely to one side. Do the eye roll “tic” in bursts, and do it frequently.

OK, begin reading while you tic:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thanks for taking the time to try to experience what I feel when I’m trying to read or do my work. It isn’t easy, is it? Sometimes I feel like you are impatient with me because it takes me longer to do things or because I get frustrated during homework time, but I really am trying as hard as I can.

I really love you both and don’t want to embarrass you with your friends or when we’re all out together, but I can’t seem to stop the movements or sounds. It seems that the harder I try not to make the sounds or movements, the more I make them. Then I see that frustration or disappointment in your face and feel even worse.

Please understand. If I could stop it, I would.

How did you do? Did you experience interference in trying to read? Did you get dizzy or nauseous at all? Did you feel frustrated? If you were your child and trying to read, might you get fatigued or irritable after a while? Would you give up? Remember that you were only asked to read a few sentences.

Tics of the eyes, head, and neck are the most common tics. Allow extra time for activities where tics might interfere. Give your child opportunities to get up and move around to release tics if they need to and if it helps. If your child is older, work collaboratively with them to help them to learn to manage tics that might be socially problematic (such as spitting). Help your child accept that they have tics but don’t make the tics the central part of their lives.

Exercise 2

You will need RealPlayer, QuickTime, or some other program capable of playing a .wav file to do this exercise. Please adjust the volume on your computer speakers to a comfortable level.

When you click on the link below, you will hear a public service announcement from a national organization. The announcement was recorded in 2000. As you listen to the recorded announcement, you will again have bursts of tics, but this time, you will have a vocal tic and will have to yell out, “hooo-boy” in bouts (e.g., repeat “hooo-boy” three times, wait a few seconds, and then do it a few times, wait a few seconds and do it twice, etc.).

OK, when you’re ready to start, click this link.

So how did you do with this one? Were you able to listen and to process what you were hearing while you were ticcing? How did your vocal tic affect you, and how might your child’s vocal tics be affecting him or her?

Feel free to share this exercise with other parents if you think it will help increase their awareness.