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If Someone You Know Has a Tic Disorder

(This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing about tic disorders; the first is “Tic Disorders: What Are They?”)


This blurry picture best shows through an image what a tic disorder feels like. If you know someone with a tic disorder, you might have wondered what tics feel like.

More than that, though, if someone you know and regularly interact with has a tic disorder, you might have wondered how you should handle it. The number one thing I can suggest is one that might be awkward: Ask them.

It might not be the most comfortable thing, but everyone is different, and not all of us are looking for people to treat our tics the same way. This would only be if you know the person well enough to talk to them about it, though, and if it’s something you’re not comfortable with (or think they’d be uncomfortable with), I’ll give you some tips that should be safe.

1. Don’t freak out. Especially in larger group/public settings, it’s not fun when someone stares at you and starts loudly panicking and asking you if you’re okay sixty times. Be calm. If you think something might actually be wrong and you’re concerned, voice your concerns quietly and privately.

2. Don’t make jokes about their tics. This is one that is more likely to vary from person to person; some people are cool with jokes about it, while others are much more sensitive. If you know the person well, it’s something you can usually gauge.

This is something that also depends on how well you know someone. If one of my best friends makes a joke about my tics, it doesn’t really bother me. If someone I barely know does, it makes me uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassed. (For example, when an acquaintance in English class referred to me as “Tourette’s” for months, that was bothersome. When my best friend jokingly scoots over when she sits next to me, I laugh.)

In general, if you’re not sure, don’t joke about it. There’s little harm in not joking about it. If they’re joking about it with you, then you can know it’s okay to join in.

3. Don’t tell them their tics are fake. Even if they hit you or yell something at an inopportune time, don’t tell them that one “couldn’t have been by accident.” Yes, it could have. It probably (almost definitely) was. I don’t fake my tics. Because if I do once, then someone has grounds for saying it’s fake at any time. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but give people the benefit of the doubt.

4. Remember that this is a medical condition. I don’t control my tics. I don’t decide when I tic. This is a neurological problem. If you’re not sure how to handle anything, ask yourself how you would handle any other medical condition someone has.

Tic disorders are serious, but they can also be funny and silly and a little awkward. Remember that people are not their tic disorders, but that can be a part of them. Laugh with them—never at them—and consider their feelings and opinions about how to handle their tics.

Something I struggle to put into words is how hard it can be socially for those with tic disorders, especially since they’re most common among children (as they tend to fade into adulthood). There’s a YouTube video I found from someone with Tourette’s Syndrome that puts into words what I usually can’t, and I would encourage you to watch it at the following link: https://youtu.be/ONL7cg-NIbohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONL7cg-NIbo&feature=youtu.be.

Tic disorders can be a big deal, and I’m just hoping I can let people know a little more about them and maybe make it easier for someone out there who’s struggling with the same thing I am.

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