How teens recovered from the “TikTok Tics” – The Denver Post

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CALGARY, Alberta — Aidan’s tics erupted one day after school in early 2021, about a month after the long pandemic lockdown had ended. The 16-year-old convulsed while walking into the house, head snapping and arms swinging, sometimes letting out high-pitched whistles and whoops.

Aidan’s parents looked up from the living room couch with alarm. They had been worried about the teenager’s ratcheting anxiety — related to COVID, gender dysphoria, college applications, even hanging out with friends. But they were not prepared for this dramatic display.

“We watched this happen in front of our eyes,” Aidan’s mother, Rhonda, recently recalled. “It looked like Aidan was going crazy.”

They rushed Aidan to the emergency room, but doctors found nothing wrong. After calling a neurologist, the family learned that more than a dozen adolescents in Calgary had recently experienced similar spasms.

Over the next year, doctors around the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team also found a link to gender. The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

Perhaps as striking as the wave of TikTok tics is how quickly it has receded. As teenagers have resumed their pre-pandemic social lives, new cases of the tics have petered out. And doctors said that most of their tic patients had recovered, illustrating the expansive potential for adolescent resilience.

“Adolescence is a period of rapid social and emotional development,” said Dr. Tamara Pringsheim, a neurologist who co-led the studies in Calgary. “They are like sponges, grabbing on to new skills to cope.”

Curious Clusters

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