Tourette Syndrome Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a genetic condition that affects about 100,000 Americans. Experts don't know the exact cause of TS, but some research suggests that it occurs when there's a disturbance in the balance in neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that carry nerve signals from cell to cell.
The main symptoms of TS are motor tics (sudden, apparently uncontrollable movements such as exaggerated eye blinking, grimacing, head jerking, or shoulder shrugging) or vocal tics (such as repeated throat clearing, sniffing, or humming). Complex motor tics may include jumping, touching other people, sniffing, or, very rarely, biting or hitting self. Complex vocal tics can involve repeating other people's words (called echolalia) or involuntary swearing (called coprolalia).
At certain times, such as stressful situations, tics can become more severe, more frequent, or longer. TS usually emerges in childhood or adolescence and is more common in boys. While there is no cure for TS, doctors sometimes prescribe medications to help control symptoms that can interfere with schoolwork or daily life.
It’s common for people with TS to have other conditions, too, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), learning disabilities, or sleep problems.
Students with Tourette syndrome may:
- say or do inappropriate things
- have difficulty concentrating in class because they are focusing on trying to control tics
- need to have breaks from instruction to take medication or use relaxation techniques to help reduce the frequency or intensity of tics
- be absent from school or dislike school because they are embarrassed by their tics
- have poor school performance
TS is a neurological condition, not a psychological one. But it can cause psychological distress in students, and this distress can make the tics more severe.
What Teachers Can Do
Students with TS face a significantly higher risk of being bullied. Counselors and TS organizations can help you and your students learn how to explain the tics to others.
Make sure to give special consideration regarding instruction, assignments, and testing, especially if your student misses class time due to medical appointments or counseling.
Students with TS can participate in school sports, phys-ed, and extracurricular activities. Encouraging them to participate is a great way for students to focus their mental and physical energy and improve socialization and peer interaction.
Reviewed by: Mary Lou Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013
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