Spotting Tourette in the Classroom, Part 1: What sets TS apart

Spotting Tourettes in the Classroom

Everyone remembers that kid in class who made weird noises to annoy the teacher.

“And now we’re going to review the Pythagorean Theorem…”

“Beedew, beedew, beedew!”

*Annoyed look at Johnny*

“…which we learned about last week.”

*Thump, thump, thump*

“Johnny, that is interrupting and inappropriate. Please stop making those sounds.”

*Tap, tap, tap*


And so on, and so forth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned around in a classroom to address strange sounds and have seen that ornery grin that says guilty.

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 some telltale signs of Tourette in the classroom.

What Sets Tourette Apart

It doesn’t stop with discipline. No matter how much you threaten, scare or punish a child with Tourette, he or she will not be able to stop. I’ve heard the command, “Stop that,” numerous times as an adult, and even at this age, ticcing is something I really struggle to control. I might be able to delay it, but I can’t stop it completely.

It’s not wrong for a teacher to attempt to correct children who are making inappropriate sounds in a classroom. When a child continues to make sounds, however, it’s something to make note of. Talking to a child can never be underrated either. When initial discipline doesn’t work, simply pulling a child aside and asking him or her about the sounds. While a teacher isn’t allowed to diagnose a child, it’s always important to understand children personally, to treat them as well as possible. A child with a true Tic Disorder or Tourette will truly be incapable of stopping them simply because he’s in the classroom.

Other children might tease the child about their movements or sounds. As much as teachers utilize the eyes in the backs of their heads, there are just some things they don’t see. Often, however, the children are very aware of those things that slip teachers’ notice. When a teacher  notices other children focusing taunts or teasing on one student, it’s probably something the teacher would do well to quietly investigate. A watchful eye is one of the best gifts a teacher can give her students.

Common TicsCommon sounds or movements to look for. From my experience, as well as the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says that common tics might be

  • grunting
  • coughing
  • squeaking
  • whole words repeated
  • throat clearing
  • sniffing
  • snapping
  • stomping
  • shrugging
  • limb shaking
  • hopping
  • jumping
  • barking

An important part of Tourette to remember is that anything can be a tic, really. Brains are different, and they come up with different forms of tics. Tics can look strange, or they can be motions used in everyday life. For example, a few of my tics are snapping, blinking, squeaking, and an unusual tic where I curl my thumb and put it to my lip and move it back and forth.

Stay tuned for part 2, when we discuss “So What’s a Teacher to Do?”

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