Autism and Tics: What's The Connection?

What are autistic tics and how do they affect those with autism? Read on to find out.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

What Are Autistic Tics?

Autistic tics are movements done repetitively or vocalizations said in a pattern. Tics can be something as simple as movements like eye blinking or shrugging one's shoulders, to something more complex like jumping and repeating the same phrase over and over.

Tics might involve different vocalizations like clearing the throat, grunting loudly, and saying the same things on repeat. Being either mild or severe, tics have the potential to interfere with one's daily responsibilities.

The cause of tics isn't known exactly but is thought to be linked to changes in one's brain chemistry, or its structure.

Some experts think that tics are the consequence of neurotransmitter imbalances, chemicals in the brain that assist the transmission of messages going to different nerve cells. Other people think that tics could be linked to the brain's tasks of processing and filtering.


Tourette Syndrome

Autistic tics and Tourette syndrome, or TS, are related in that both can exhibit repetitive vocalizations and movements. Still, there are differences between both conditions.

Autistic tics and Tourette syndrome, or TS, are related in that both can exhibit repetitive vocalizations and movements.

Tourettes is a neurodevelopmental disorder that's characterized by motor tics and vocal tics, sometimes just one. These usually begin in a person's childhood and go on into their adult life.

In some instances, their tics could lower and become less frequent as they get even older. But there are other cases where one's tics could become worse.

Tics done by adults can be characteristic of autism as well. However, autism is an entirely different neurodevelopmental disorder that's diagnosed in an unfamiliar way to Tourette syndrome.

Tics from someone that's on the spectrum can have vocalizations and movements of a repetitive nature as well. They can be rudimentary movements, like blinking one's eyes or moving the shoulders. Jumping is very common, especially in children.

Tics that are found in Tourette syndrome patients are usually more frequently occurring and severe than those in someone with ASD. Oftentimes, they're accompanied by other hosts of compulsions and symptoms that are obsessive, like ADHD.

On the contrary, an autistic person with tics usually has a less severe nature. When it's shown, other symptoms similar to different hosts of disorders aren't present.

Autism and Tourette syndrome both have repetitions, but they're not entirely the same. And while someone can have both disorders, it's typically a rarity.

Persistent Motor or Vocal Tic Disorder

A vocal tic disorder is a sort of this disorder that's known for displays that can be heard from someone's words or noises.

They're repetitive vocalizations, like grunting, making noises, with the throat, and saying words many times in a short timeframe. This is usually done involuntarily.

A vocal tic disorder is usually diagnosed when someone has a vocal it's for around 12 months but doesn't fall under the same category found in Tourettes, or any other similar disorder. There are no multiple tics involved, like obsessive-compulsive actions.

The direct cause of vocal tic disorder isn't known yet but is currently being studied by many researchers. It's thought to be linked to the brain.

Provisional Tic Disorder

A provisional tic disorder is also called transient tic disorder. It's a condition where the presence of tics, like involuntary movements and repetitive sounds, last for at least a year.

The tics associated with the disorder can be motor movement based or based on vocals alone.

In many cases, the tics linked to PTD can come on suddenly and be resolved in a couple of months. But in other cases, tics could go on for many years in someone's life.

The cause of provisional tics isn't entirely known. It's thought by psychiatrists to be connected to the brain's makeup, much the same as the other alternative tics already mentioned. Most of the time, it's diagnosed in children and teenagers but can occur at every age range.

Treatment for provisional tics might not be needed for everyone since the tics could go away on their own after a while. They may even last just a very short while.

Still, if the tics have begun to impact someone's life to the point of causing ADHD, anxiety, and other symptoms, treatment might be the best way for getting someone to manage it. This can be done by taking medications, going into therapy, or both at the same time.

PTD is a serious condition that shouldn't be overlooked by anyone that's known to have it. Family members of people that are of the spectrum or have Tourettes syndrome should be vigilant about repetitive behaviors and be sure to speak to their pediatrician, physicians, or psychiatrists about it.

While treatment could be a last resort for this, it may be the key to getting one back on track to living a normal life.


Stereotypies are repetitive behaviors or movements that can occur in individuals with autism. These behaviors can range from simple movements, such as hand flapping or rocking, to more complex behaviors, such as repeating phrases or lines from movies.

Stereotypies are often seen as a hallmark of autism and can be a source of distress for individuals with the condition. Stereotypies in individuals with autism can occur as a way of self-stimulating or self-soothing in response to stress or anxiety.

They may also be a way of seeking sensory input or releasing pent-up energy. The exact reason for why stereotypies occur in individuals with autism is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to differences in the way the brain processes information.In addition to being a common characteristic of autism, stereotypies can also be a source of difficulty for individuals with the condition.

They can interfere with daily activities, such as sleeping or eating, and can be a source of embarrassment, leading to social isolation. For this reason, it is important for individuals with autism who engage in stereotypies to receive support and treatment to help manage their symptoms.

How do Tics Affect a Child?

Autistic tics can have a negative impact on the lives of kids that are on the spectrum.

They're very distracting, not only to others but the people that have them. It can lead to disruptions and may interfere with a kid's time spent learning, playing, or socializing with other children.

There are cases where tics can also result in bullying by classmates and sequestering from their peers. It can have a huge impact on a child's self-esteem and social abilities. Kids with tics can also go through lots of physical discomforts, along with pain. It can be directly tied to their tics and alter their quality of life and well-being.

Kids that are on the spectrum and have tics often struggle with anxiety, stress, and depression. They might stress over how their tics are looked upon by other people and avoid being in social settings.

Treatment for tics can help lower their severity, along with their frequency. When done, treatment can boost a child's self-esteem and life quality very fast. Medication is sometimes prescribed, along with behavioral therapy.

They both might be given all at once. Regardless, parents must know that treatment must be carefully outfitted to every child's unique preferences and needs.

Tics that occur with autism can have a huge change in a child or adult's life. Not only can they distract from work and school, but can lead to depression and self-harm left unchecked. Therefore, it should be addressed right away when the symptoms go on for longer than a couple of months.

Tic Suppression

Tic suppression is the conscious drive to suppress and control the tics that occur in someone. Tic suppression is very hard to do for some as they're involuntary and can occur without a person thinking about them.

When trying to suppress tics temporarily, it can raise the frequency and strength with which they occur after a while. For this reason, it's not recommended to be done alone as a self-treating way for getting them to go away. In most cases, they won't.


Treating autistic tics is done with medication and behavioral therapy. In most instances, antipsychotics are prescribed.

Behavioral therapy could involve habit reversal techniques. Other management techniques might be prescribed as well, like deep breathing and medication to avoid the triggers that could make them worse.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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