Thursday, January 13, 2011

I've Rejected At Least 12 Titles, So I'm Just Going to Post Already

There's a topic I've been avoiding blogging about for the last couple of months, for a few reasons. I don't know the best way to bring it up, and I don't want to expose what might be considered, by some, to be flaws in my son. Also, admittedly, I am worried about it. And writing about it will make it seem more real.

But ultimately, my worry is why I really do want to blog about it. Because as a community, we are usually pretty good at allaying each other's fears, or chiming in with "me, too" experiences that do a lot to provide comfort and hope. So here goes...

Finn has been demonstrating some tics lately. I don't know that I can really pinpoint when it began. More than a year ago, he used to compulsively pick at his fingers and nails until they bled. I didn't think of this behavior as a tic, I thought of it more as a bad habit, albeit a gross one. But looking back, it was a habit that he really couldn't control AT ALL. M. or I would sit with Finn at bedtime, reading him a story, and tell him ten or twenty times to stop picking his nails. We would grab his hands, or touch them to stop him, and one second later he'd be back at it again. It was frustrating, and we went through periods of time where he'd have bandaids on nearly every finger. But eventually, without us even noticing when, Finn stopped picking his fingers. He still picks his nails a little (or he must, because I never seem to have to cut them), but his hands don't look like they were ravaged by a flesh-eating insect anymore.

Cut to November (I think?) of this year, and suddenly, Finn started incessantly making a sucking-in noise through his mouth - like he was drawing in spit around his teeth with his mouth shut (if that makes sense). I cannot adequately convey through words to you just how ANNOYING this sound was. And he made it A LOT. Usually when he was watching TV, eating dinner, in the car, or in other not terribly active (physically) situations.

I began to get concerned. What if he did this at school? What if his friends started to think he's weird? And allowing for the fact that 4- and 5-year-olds are pretty oblivious and probably don't notice, what if he never, ever stops, and he does this when he's 30? In my panicked mind, I thought he would never have a successful social or professional life.

M. and I first tried ignoring the sound, but eventually took a direct approach; calling Finn's attention to the noise, asking him to stop, ordering him to stop, begging and pleading for him to stop. We even tried mimicking the behavior back to him just so he could see how freaking irritating it was (he was not bothered, though he did notice). He claimed to like making the noise, and if anything, seemed to take pleasure in making the noise even more frequently than before.

And then, about 4 weeks after it started, the noise went away. It died away gradually - there was a little bit of time where Finn made some half-hearted, weakened versions of the sound - but was gone by Christmas. M. and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking we had passed through what our limited Google research had told us might be a transient tic, something that is fairly common in young children (especially boys) and typically outgrown well before adulthood.

But now there's a new tic in town, and this one has us a little more worried than before. With the others, I could understand why the behavior might be comforting, or a fun obsession in the case of the mouth sucking noise. But the current tic doesn't seem like anything more than just that - a tic. In this one, Finn blinks his eyes hard (almost as though he is clearing something in his eye) and raises his arms up from his sides - sort of like he is pretending to fly, but not quite that high. More concerning is that he stops doing whatever he is doing (including playing) in order to make the movements, and he gets a spaced out look on his face. This week, I have noticed that the dinner table is one place where these movements come out very frequently. I'm not sure if he does it while watching TV, but he will do it while playing after dinner and when we read him stories at bedtime.

I've asked Finn what he thinks about when he does the arm raising, and he can't really tell me. He says he is not pretending to fly. I think because we have suggested it as a possibility, he says he blinks his eyes because they are dry and he can't see well. But he didn't say this before we brought it up to him as a possibility, and he passed an eye test at his well check-up in October, so I'm not really inclined to believe him (I think?).

I got up the courage (and I don't know why I needed it, but I did) to ask one of Finn's teachers if she had noticed him blinking his eyes or raising his arms at school. I wanted to know in case we brought it up with Finn's doctor. She had not. It's possible that it's a quick and subtle enough behavior that she might not have caught it with 16 other kids in the room, or it's possible that he just doesn't do it at school. And maybe that's why he goes crazy with it at the dinner table once we're at home and in a relaxed environment (if you can call home at dinner time relaxed, which I might not!).

I'm trying, trying not to worry TOO much about this, these quick changing, repetitive behaviors. But then I wonder, should I worry MORE about this? The (in)expert Dr. Google tells me that if it's not a transient tic disorder, it could be Tourrette's. Which would be good to know, I guess, but Dr. Google also tells me that behaviors like the ones Finn has been exhibiting would never be treated with medication - that is reserved only for tics that get in the way of every day life or that cause physical pain.

So, I have about twenty questions now. Do we make an appointment with Finn's pediatrician to start documenting this? Should Finn be with us? (I don't really want to talk about him in front of him in any way that might make him think there is something wrong with him.) Can we wait until his next sick visit to discuss it? (Is there ever really any extra time then, though, to talk about anything other than the fever or weird spots or whatever it is that brought us in?) Do we ask for a referral to a neurologist? Do we take him to an eye doctor? Do we just wait and watch and chill the f**k out because this is completely normal?

OK, now is the time where you shower me with reassurances and like experiences (first-, second- and even thirdhand stories will be accepted), please.

And it's also the point where I tell YOU that I love my baby boy with all my heart for everything that he is. He is wonderful and earnest and too hard on himself and funny and smart and beautiful. And he tells a mean fart joke.


  1. I have to say that I am jealous that Finn's strange behaviors seem to transition to new ones. G. is still tearing off her fingernails - we've been there for more than a year. And "talking" to us with loud annoying non-word sounds constantly. She doesn't appear to use these non-words a school. And, aside from the annoying outbursts, uses language appropriately. But, it drives me absolutely bonkers! My mom (lifelong kindergarden teacher) says its normal and that I should ignore it (yeah right). I think that they are testing their impact on us, experimenting with oddities to learn how to push our buttons. I think that G. may be stuck on the loud sound thing because it has become very clear that it drives me crazy. Stop googling - you will drive yourself crazy!

  2. Sorry, A, I have no stories for you but I think you might as well call the pediatrician. Have a good timeline of the tics and manners WRITTEN OUT so you don't forget to say things (even if it is this blog post). I would call the pedi and explain - wait for her to suggest whether you should all come in but note that you are concerned about Finn overhearing the conversation. Since he is old enough he could probably play in the waiting room while you talk to the doctor after the visit. Bring a pad of paper and pen too. Good luck.

  3. Perhaps you have just read too many David Sedaris books? Kidding. If it worries you then I agree a call wouldn't hurt. But you might also be expecting too much from Finn for him to articulate reasons. He's only 4! He could just do it because it feel good (sensory exploration).

  4. I am delurking to say that my daughter did something similar with her eyes about a year ago (she would have been 2.5 yrs then) and we took her to the pediatrician bc it was so bizarre. Her pediatrician said it's just a normal tic that little kids go through. The doc told us that unless she said something was bothering her, it most likely was nothing to worry about about would pass soon enough. And it did - as soon as it started, it ended! Good luck. Linda

  5. Hi Allison!
    First, here is my reassurance story. I had a lot of ticks as a kid. Seriously, a lot, Davis Sedaris-style. I had the exact same "whistling in with mouth closed" one, as well as a bunch of other equally weird ones like clicking with my tongue, scratching palms of my hands with my finger nails, and also a version of the eye blinking one. Mine didn't involve arm raising, but was accompanied by a disturbing facial contortion that my parents (who mainly ignored my other ticks) used to get horrified about. I clearly remember them yelling at me and threatening punishment for that one. Like Finn's, they all would appear, consume me for a while and then inexplicably disappear. When I got older, they took other forms like incessant step counting, hand washing and taking unnecessarily deep breaths. These "older" ticks actually had some reasoning behind them (like fear of not getting enough oxygen, I know, totally irrational). But I tried to think back to what I was thinking at ages 5-7, and really nothing came to mind, except a compulsive need to repeat the tick behavior. The weird thing is I never remember any of my childhood friends or teachers ever mention them, and I'm pretty sure they only manifested at home, or especially, like you say, during times of low activity (like in the evening, before bed, etc.).
    The reassurance part here is that the ticks themselves tend to fade by adolescence, although may occasionally morph into mostly acceptable adult forms of OCD behavior :). And you know me,I have turned out to be a functioning adult, with a professional and a social life of some sort, and even kids of my own. I think, in general, based on my own and other "tick-prone" people's experiences, this behavior is indicative of a certain type of temperament, with a tendency for over-analyzing and neurosis. This sounds bad, but I swear there are upsides (just look at David Sedaris :)). Nowdays, my tendency mostly manifests as being sometimes impractically obsessive (which probably explains why I'm still in academic research), in over-blown parental anxiety (like paranoia over choking hazards or recording my 15 month old's daily caloric intake)and smoking (because like David Sedaris, I found this horrible habit to really help). So really, I think Finn is OK, and I don't think the tick behavior will even spill over into his "outside/external" life, though it may, like I said, represent some internal tendencies in him.
    Second, I just wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed reading your blog! You and Mark have such an adorable family :).

  6. I have done a lot of child and adolescent research and counseling and tics are quite normal and kids WAY more often than not, grow out of them! Like Mommy Esq said, for your own mental health, make an appointment with your ped, it can't hurt! PS I love how you blogged about this, it inspires me! PSS If you're ever down this wa, let me know!!!!