My Child’s Involuntary Jaw Movements

Reader’s Question

My 6-year-old daughter keeps moving her jaw in a way that looks involuntary. It just started recently. She has been diagnosed with expressive language disorder and she’s getting speech therapy. Is this symptom related to any kind of psychiatric problem?

Psychologist’s Reply

The first concern is that the jaw movements started recently. Has she been placed on medication of some kind? Medications for ADHD, for example, can produce involuntary “tic” movements in children. I’d first be concerned about any medications.

If no medications are involved, we know that some children have “subclinical tics” — basically a type of neurological movement disorder that is not typically seen unless the child is under stress, very tired, or excited. I’d keep a log of when, where, and how these movements are present in your child. Do they occur prior to school (possible school anxiety) or in specific social situations? Are they related to anxiety about her speech disorder or therapy?

It’s unlikely to be a psychiatric disorder as such. It’s possible that she may be having medication reactions or subclinical tics. This may also be dental problem (teeth grinding) that may need evaluation by a dentist. The movements may also be a form of Tourette’s Disorder. Are there times when the movements are not present? This is very important as well.

Bottom line? She will probably need a consultation with a pediatric neurologist to consider the possibility of neurological tics. Do your homework, do your logs, and be prepared for some evaluations. Also review a previous Ask the Psychologist question labeled “Involuntary Jaw Movements when Stressed”. (The search box at the top of the page can locate the article for you.)

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