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Spotting Tourette in the Classroom, Part 2: So what’s a teacher to do?

Spotting Tourettes in the Classroom

Everyone remembers that kid in class who made weird noises to annoy the teacher. But what about those instances where the noises aren’t meant to drive the teacher crazy? Is it possible a student might be dealing with Tourette Syndrome? How do you know if it’s a Tic Disorder, Tourette, or just another attempt to annoy everyone around him? Today we’re going to discuss what teachers can do properly when they encounter Tourette in the classroom.

Once a teacher realizes the child has symptoms that match a tic disorder or Tourette, there are basic accommodations that can be made in the classroom. Some of these can be best made with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) or in basic, quiet changes only known by the teacher and student. Here are a few good tips I’ve found:

From Northern Illinois University College of Education

  • Have a duplicate set of text books for the child to keep at home. This can help students who might have missed details of the text because of the ticcing. Just think, if your head is constantly jerking or your eyes are constantly blinking, it can be quite distracting in the classroom. You might need to go over the material again later.
  • Use a seating chart to allow for any movement tics. This is especially helpful if the child has a tic like jumping or jerking, something where she needs to move, and it will lessen the distraction to other students.

From the Newtown PAC Family Resource Center by Susan Conners, M.Ed., Education Specialist, TSA, Inc.

  • Give the child frequent breaks out of the classroom to release tics in a less embarrassing environment, e.g. the bathroom, the drinking fountain, a real or made up errand to run. It’s important to have a safe place where the student can go to release his tics, somewhere where he won’t feel embarrassed to let out the extra energy burning up inside of him.
  • Do not penalize students for poor handwriting. Provide alternatives for doing tests, assignments, etc. (orally, taped). It can be difficult to write well when your hand is constantly moving on its own accord. This is an accommodation that might be best discussed in an IEP meeting (a meeting between the teacher, any school staff involved in this part of the student’s education, such as school psychologist, counselor, principal, and resource teacher, and the parents).

From the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (PDF)

  • Do not impose disciplinary action for tic behaviors. The stress these impositions make on children with Tourette will do nothing but stress them out and exacerbate the tics, making them even worse.
  • Educate other students about Tourette disorder, encourage the student to provide his own explanations, and encourage peers to ignore tics whenever possible. Note that this can only be done with the parents’ and student’s permission. It’s illegal to tell a student’s classmates about his disorder without the express permission of his parents, and it’s highly recommended to have his permission as well. If the student can be his own advocate, he’s already won half the battle. This takes time, however, and if he’s not ready, this announcement can do great damage.
  • Provide a private, quiet place for test taking. Remove time limits when possible. I can tell you from personal experience that the stress of test taking can make tics worse, which can distract the student, as well as her classmates. If a student feels less stress during the test by having the time limit extended or removed, she’s more likely to experience fewer tics in the process.

Brittany Fichter’s Personal Tip

  • Keeping hands busy can help with lessening tics. For example, I use my iPad to keep my hands busy when I’m sitting in church. When I’m with the worship team at church, I sometimes bring my military challenge coins up with me to finger while I’m singing. Basically, the extra energy that feels like it’s surging through my body can be funneled into the movements I purposefully put into the objects I’m holding.

Just One More Thing

It’s important to note that Tourette is often misunderstood, commonly known as the “cursing” disorder. Coprolalia is a rare form of Tourette, however, and once again, if seen in the classroom, can’t be blamed on the student. It’s also a challenge best handled by an IEP team so the student has the fewest challenges possible in the classroom.

Also, children with Tourettes often have comorbid disorders, such as OCDADHD, Anxiety Disorders, as well as learning disabilities. This doesn’t mean, however, that children with Tourette can’t be successful or intelligent. Famous names such as Jamie Grace, Tim Howard, and Brad Cohen prove this. A Tourette diagnosis death sentence, and it doesn’t mean failure. It simply means those of us who support these kiddos need to get a little creative with how we help them learn and grow.

If you have any suggestions, questions, or comments about Tourette in the classroom, please share them in the Comment Box below. And don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter to receive extra resources I don’t include in my blog, encouragement, and a gift as a thank you for signing up. Thanks for reading!

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