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Online therapy beneficial to children with tics, new research shows

New research has revealed how online behaviour therapy is both safe and effective in helping children with tics.

Led by the University of Nottingham, the Online Remote Behavioural Intervention for Tics (ORBIT) study evaluated two different treatment programmes for 9-17-year-olds with either Tourette’s syndrome or chronic tic disorder.

The first treatment investigated Exposure and Response Prevention and involved learning to let tics happen, then resisting the urges to tic again for as long as possible. The second approach focused on educating participants about their tics, rather than necessarily learning how to control and ultimately stop them.

The results from the ORBIT trial indicated that, not only did the first treatment option demonstrate reduced scores for low mood and anxiety, it was also cost-effective and very easy for children and young people to access the therapy – regardless of where they lived in the country.

Dr Charlotte Hall, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and ORBIT Trial Manager, said: “These findings are exciting. They are the first to show the long-term benefits of online delivered therapy for tics.

“We hear a lot from clinicians who want to be able to offer tic therapy but don’t have the skills, money, or resources to offer it. Likewise, we know families who are desperate to access therapy.”

Despite approximately 70,000 children and young people suffering from Tourette’s syndrome in England and the fact that said tics can cause significant disruption and distress in people’s social and school lives, less than one in five people living with tics access behavioural therapy.

Tourette’s Action’s CEO, Emma McNally, added: “I’ve heard from parents who talk of holding their child in their arms in tears, unable to stop motor tics that are so repetitive they become physically painful. Adults who describe muscle spasms so intense and so uncontrollable that they are in extreme pain and yet are unable to stop the tics.

“The results from this trial are very promising, enabling individuals to access evidence-based treatment to help them better manage and control their tics online. This will be extremely beneficial to individuals who currently have no services local to them. It could potentially improve the lives of so many people.”

The ORBIT study was given £1.5m of funding through the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and was a collaboration between:

  • NIHR MindTech
  • The Institute of Mental Health
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital
  • University of Nottingham
  • University College London
  • The Karolinska Institutet
  • Tourette’s Action

The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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