Lockdown has led to an “explosion” of children with disabling tics disorders and Tourette's syndrome, the president of the British Paediatric Neurology Association has said.
Consultants across the country have seen a “worrisome upshift” in the number of youngsters whose stress or anxiety has led them to suffer from debilitating tics, according to Dr Alasdair Parker.
His remarks come amid warnings that children will suffer life-long consequences from lockdown and that the “young have been sacrificed for the old” during the pandemic.
Dr Parker told The Telegraph that while mild tics can be fairly common in children, specialists have noted a marked increase in children displaying far more “troublesome” and complex issues in recent months.
“The most severe tics disorders I have seen over the last 20 years have all presented in the last five months to my practise,” Dr Parker said.
He said that the word “explosion” is now being used among paediatric neurologists such as himself, as well as mental health specialists, to describe the number of children presenting with tics disorders and Tourette's.
Tics are fast, repetitive muscle movements that result in sudden and involuntary body jolts or sounds. While mild tics are fairly common in children, then can develop over time into a more serious condition, or Tourette’s syndrome which is used to describe tics that have lasted for more than a year.
Dr Parker explained that when attempting to treat tics or Tourette's, consultants always seek to address any issues that might be causing them stress, anxiety or upheaval.
Children have had to endure “terrific change” in the past year, he said. “We should be out walking and running, solving with multiple different problems each day, working our social group out, dealing with threats and resolving issues.
“Children, at the moment, are not having much social contact at all so they are not doing the normal things they should be doing.”
Youngsters are also being “bombarded” with catastrophic language about the pandemic. “They have been worried about family members dying and they are very worried about the welfare of friends because they can’t touch base with those people.”
Dr Parker said that while it is “brilliant” the country has made “such big sacrifices” to protect the elderly, this must be balanced up with the harms to youngsters.
One mother told The Telegraph how her 13-year-old daughter had been a star pupil, on track to achieve top grades in her GCSEs, and aspired to become a vet.
But now all of this is in doubt after she developed such a severe tics disorder that she can no longer eat or sleep and is covered in bruises from hitting herself.
The mother, who runs a healthcare consultancy in Nottingham, said that her daughter had been feeling low during lockdown but over time this “progressed into something far more severe”. Her consultant pediatrician confirmed that her tics have likely developed due to the stress of lockdown.
“She shouts, she swears, she hits, she throws things, she drops to her knees, her legs kick out, her arms fly out, she head-butts things and smacks herself in the face” the mother said. “My child will require lifelong support from the NHS.
“Unfortunately the Government has sacrificed the young for the old and ultimately we will be paying the price with this generation of children for a very long time.”
Dr Karen Street, a consultant paediatrician and mental health lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said there has been a “significant increase” in children being hospitalised for mental health issues.
“Almost certainly what is happening with tics and Tourette's is just one manifestation of worsening of mental health among young people,” she said.
One in six children now have a mental health problem, according to NHS research, up from one in nine just three years ago.
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said that repeated lockdowns have led to “enduring and in some cases life changing consequences” for children.
She added: “This is heartbreaking and once again it shows the absolute urgency of getting these children back in school which is where they belong.”