Children with Tourette syndrome (TS) often face a hostile, unkind world in the public school system. Teachers can be impatient with the tics and peers can be cruel and insulting. What happens in the classroom, and how the tics are handled, can seriously impact the life of this special child.
Here are ten classroom accommodations which can help your child with Tourette Syndrome (or other tic disorders) succeed in school:
1. Select a good teacher. The teacher should be carefully chosen. He or she should be patient, understanding, and knowledgeable about TS. The teacher should have a private meeting with parents and the child prior to the beginning of the school year to meet the child and learn what the tics look like, what strategies have helped at home, and other general information about TS.
2. The teacher sets an example. The teacher must be made aware that his or her reaction to the tics as they occur will be a model to the students in the class. If the teacher appears unaffected and tolerant, the students are likely to follow that lead. This teacher will play a vital role in the ultimate outcome of your child’s school experience. He or she should not act angry, upset, annoyed, and shouldn’t laugh or smile at the tics. Reprimanding a student with TS is as bad as punishing a child with Cerebral Palsy for being too clumsy.
3. A special show and tell should be given soon after school begins, where the child can talk about life with Tourette syndrome, answer questions about how the tics “feel” and why they occur, and then share some hobbies and interests that are unrelated to the condition, to help humanize him or her.
4. Adaptations for tests should be made. The child with tics should be allowed to take tests in a private room. That way, he or she doesn’t have to worry about suppressing the tics in the silence during the exam. And the tics won’t cause distractions for the other students.
5. Seating should be carefully considered and the teacher should allow for breaks. Seating the child more toward the back of the room where he or she can tic without constant observation from peers would be helpful. A seat close to the door would also be good, as long as it’s not too distracting. The child should be allowed short breaks periodically, without needless attention paid to his departure, where he can go to a private place and let out his tics.
6. A peer tutor could be assigned privately by the teacher to help ward off teasing and mistreatment from the TS child’s peers. A child who is particularly sensitive, responsible, and well-liked by classmates would be a good choice. The child could be told, “You are such an example to the other students. Would you look out for John and help the class see that teasing him is wrong?” Most children respond well to a special request.
7. Assignments should be adapted. Children with TS have visual-motor integration problems. Seeing and processing materials quickly is likely to be difficult. These kids should be given extra time to complete assignments. Even the brightest TS students may have a hard time finishing work quickly. Teachers should allow as much time as necessary to take tests. The handwriting of TS kids is often sloppy, so the teacher should not penalize the child, but instead grade on effort. Quizzing and tests could be given orally by the teacher in a private room. A note-taking buddy could be assigned to take notes and provide a copy for the TS child.
8. Parents should work closely with the teacher, checking in once a week or more, to see how things are going, discuss problems, and talk about how medication seems to be working and whether side affects are being observed, such as sleepiness.
9. Activities that cause anxiety should be eliminated or adjusted. Oral reports could be tape recorded so that the child won’t have to stand in front of the class, if that is a source of overwhelming stress for him.
10. Treat symptoms of ADHD. It is extremely common for children with Tourette Syndrome to also have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and general problems with paying attention. For assistance with attention-related issues, see my blog: Ten Ways to Help Your Child with ADHD Succeed in School.
Children with Tourette Syndrome are eligible for special education, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). This doesn’t mean children with TS must be isolated into special classrooms. In fact, separating a child simply because she has tics is illegal. The above adaptations are your child’s right so that he or she can be part of a regular, mainstreamed classroom whenever possible. Insist that your child’s special needs are met.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.