Understanding a Child with Tourette – An Overview

Children with Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders may display a wide array of symptoms that are difficult to control. Vocal tics (for example, humming, clearing the throat, or yelling out a word or phrase), and multiple motor tics (for example, blinking or shrugging the shoulders) can disrupt classroom activities, but there are ways to minimize this impact. Keeping in mind that the child may have additional challenges associated with Tourette Syndrome could be a first step towards ameliorating difficulties that arise in your classroom.

The following provides a general overview, however, for in-depth strategies for understanding and managing Tourette in the classroom, click here.

  • Tics are not intentional attempts at gaining attention or to be disruptive
  • Tics are not the student’s fault (or the fault of parents)
  • Tics should not be taken personally
  • Tics are not simple habits that can easily be replaced or stopped
  • There is no one-size-fits-all “cure” for tics

Tics Can Change, Wax and Wane

A student may have a sniffing tic for a time; then, for example, a squealing tic develops which may replace or be added to the sniffing tic. Tics may be quiet early in the day and become more noticeable and interruptive as the day progresses. Tics may be quieter in one specific class and increase in another; increase prior to lunch or decrease after eating; worse when the student is tired, angry or stressed. Commonly, if a person with TS is engrossed in an enjoyable activity, like playing a musical instrument, tics may dissipate or disappear entirely. The only truly consistent nature of TS is the inconsistency.

Tics May Appear to Be Purposeful

However, tics are neurological in nature, often described as urges that must be completed. Even when they appear to be expressed in reaction to a current situation, they are not within the control of the student with TS.

Reminding the student not to tic may,
in reality, be counterproductive.

Tics Can Be Suggestible

Reminding the student not to tic may, in reality, be counterproductive. If someone tells you to not blink for the next two minutes, you might be able to resist the urge — but, if someone reminds you to not blink, it makes it even more difficult for you not to blink. In addition, for the child with Tourette Syndrome, controlling the tic that you just reminded him about creates stress, increasing the urge to tic.

Suppressing Tics Can Affect Academic Performance

Just as we are sometimes able to suppress the urge to scratch an itch, people with TS are sometimes able to suppress tics…for a time. Just as with an itch, the mental concentration in suppressing the urge to scratch can distract from concentrating on the subject at hand.

Stress Can Increase Tics

Stress almost always increases tics. Helping the student with TS to avoid classroom stress may include assistance in note taking (allowing use of a tablet or computer, or providing handouts), not calling on the student unless he volunteers, and offering testing in a separate location.

Explore our Resource Library for many articles on managing Tourette Syndrome in the classroom.

For information related to college students, click here.