Costa’s Vocal Tic

It had been a whirlwind six months for us moving our entire family to Colorado last October, new schools, several homes, a worldwide pandemic, and stress over our business. Finally, a move back to Los Angeles in April to be close to our company as we weathered the Covid-19 storm. I was feeling many things but trying to stay positive and upbeat for the kids, focusing my energy on moving forward, staying calm, and managing the weight of it all.

Andre and I were well aware that all the change had been hard on Costa. Tantrums were big and often. Emotions and moods were frequently and quickly changing. He would ask to go back to his old house all the time, express his sadness that he was back in LA but not able to see any of his friends, and display a great deal of frustration that he always had to stay inside, wear a mask, and only play with Paolo. He would often turn to me and say, “Mom, why does every day feel like the same day now?” or “I wish the Corona Virus would just die.” All very valid points coming from a five-year-old.

And then, about two weeks after we had arrived back in LA, Andre asked me one morning if I had been hearing the sounds Costa was making. And, to be honest, I hadn’t yet. Every day I was buzzing around making meals, making snacks, cleaning up toys, doing laundry, trying to send a few emails, doing dishes, and repeating that again and again. I wasn’t spending that much time sitting still with him, and the kids were watching more TV than they ever had before. But, once Andre brought it to my attention, it was apparent something was going on. Costa was clearing his throat (a soft huh-hmmm sound) over and over and over again. At first, I did the one thing they say not to do if a child starts displaying a tic. I badgered him with questions like, “Are you ok?” “Is something wrong?” “Did you eat something that is bothering you?”. He seemed unaware he was doing it most of the time until we said something, and then he would say it felt good. In my gut, I knew this was not just a temporary irritation or allergy but something deeper, triggered by the anxiety and stress he was experiencing. Just like his years of nail-biting had brought him some positive input when feeling overwhelmed, the tic seemed to be providing him with that same kind of input during a time that made him feel so out of control.

The entire city was on lockdown so taking him to a doctor didn’t seem like the right option at the time. So, I turned to a close friend who’s son had experienced some facial tics the previous year around age 6. She shared articles, advice, and resources with me. I started obsessively reading and researching. From what I’ve learned thus far, there is no clear or definitive known cause for tics or why they start. They often appear in children around 5-6 years old. Some believe it is genetic/inherited, while others believe it is environmental or caused by some underlying issue. There are also many claims that individuals who start displaying tics often have other neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD, OCD, learning disabilities, etc. It is hard with 4 and 5-year-olds because they are still so young, but I know that Costa has difficulty focusing and keeping his body calm and sitting still for long periods. He was diagnosed with a sensory disorder at age four and worked with an occupational therapist for six months before moving away. His therapy time had been favorable, and he was learning healthy ways to seek the input he needed from the physical environment around him and tools for coping with things when he felt overwhelmed. But, it had been a long time since he had been regularly doing that work.

I gathered all my research and advice from fellow mamas and began a holistic and homeopathic approach to finding solutions that might help bring him some calm and relief from all he was feeling. Things that I could quickly implement at home, and at least test out to see if they had any effect on his behavior and the vocal tic. First, I started with his diet. Many have seen a reduction in tics by reducing gluten and refined sugar intake, so I immediately changed these changes. I didn’t go gluten-free but just began incorporating other options into the day to day to reduce his overall intake. Here are two articles my friend shared with me that I found beneficial, Dietary Interventions for Tics and Tourette Syndrome and Key Nutrients for ADHD, OCD, and Tics. In addition to the dietary changes, I started him on the following supplements (many in gummi form so that he would take them) and began incorporating essential oils into his nighttime routine. 

1/2 KAL B-6, B-12, Folic Acid Berry tablet
2 Smarty Pants MultiVitamins
1 Calm Magnesium Gummi
3 drops Vitamin D 1000 IU
1 Omega 3 Focus Junior
Jettie Probiotics – 1 packet a day (an easy thing to add to a morning smoothie)

2 Smarty Pants MultiVitamins
2 Calm Magnesium Gummi
1 Omega 3 Focus Junior
1 Charlottes Web CBD Gummy – Sleep
1 Charlottes Web CBD Gummy – Recovery

Essential Oils on his sheets at bedtime:
Young Living Seedlings Calm

A great tip from my mama friend on how to make taking all his supplements more fun:
Painters Palette

Once the stay-at-home order lifted, I took him to an ENT, Dr. Gene Liu, at Cedars, who believes that many tics often have underlying causes like inflammation and allergy. He advised us to give Costa Zyrtec for two weeks and add a humidifier and air purifier into his bedroom. And then, in June, he started camp and began socializing again, playing, and getting his energy out during the day outside of the home.

Yes, I know the above is a lot of information, and I know that I am not a doctor. There is no way to know what precisely has helped, but I can say that after about 6 months of doing the above, Costa’s vocal tic has almost completely disappeared. He no longer does it every day, and if I do hear it, it’s usually just a single throat clearing or two, not hundreds of times like he was doing before. If it does happen, it’s when he is having screen time or being still in the car. His tantrums are less extreme, and he can bounce back much quicker from a breakdown. At night, he goes to sleep quickly and usually only wakes up if he has to pee in the middle of the night. He always complained about Charlotte’s Web CBD gummies (both the Sleep and Recovery ones) so I have removed them from this daily supplements but he still takes all of the rest.

I share this all with you because I know how hard it is when things are going on with our children that don’t have a real clear solution, where we, as parents, must play the role of detective. We want to make things more manageable for them but often don’t know where to start. I found such comfort in the advice from other moms and hearing different stories of how children could make progress in managing their tics. And, I am here, even if you need a mom to talk to about it. Sometimes, that is the best place to start.