In this article I will talk about the common adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support students with Tourette syndrome. A neurological disorder, Tourette’s causes motor and vocal tics, which are involuntary movements and sounds. The severity of Tourette’s and the complexity of tics will change from one student to another. For instance, some students may twitch their nose or click their tongue, while others may spin uncontrollably or blurt out obscene words. Students can also develop new tics and the symptoms of Tourette’s will wax and wane, making it unpredictable for both the student and teacher.
Year 4 student Steven describes Tourette’s as ‘random’ and explains why it makes him feel anxious at school. His father Micheal recalls a time when Steven’s tics were so severe that it resulted in him breaking his front teeth. Teacher Miley Evans advocates for a safe space in the school that students with Tourette’s can feel comfortable retreating to when they are experiencing a problematic day. Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia wrote an article on the main misconceptions about his disease.
Top five takeaways
Remember that Tourette’s is unpredictable; however, stress is a known trigger. So, take active steps within your classroom to reduce the level of concern a student experiencing Tourette’s may have. You can minimise anxiety in the learning environment by addressing the underlying restlessness students can feel. Using sensory toys, spinners, elastic bands and stress balls will allow a student to overcome a difficult period and aniexty
Students with Tourette’s find executive functioning skills such as organisation and planning difficult. Students will find transitions particularly stressful. To help with this, build some kind of structure in the lesson. By providing plenty of information and guidance about expectations and what’s coming up, and by creating a sense of familiarity, you can help a student manage their stress levels. Along with preparation, it’s important to give transition warnings ahead of changes taking place. Then, allow the student reasonable time to get prepared.
Build regular breaks into your daily routine. It’s important to factor in frequent opportunities for movement for a student with Tourette’s – so make this an essential part of your schedule. You can also build in incidental activity, such as getting the student with Tourette’s to perform errands that allow them to walk around. Movement enables students to become refreshed and helps them focus on their learning once they return to the classroom.
Students with Tourette’s are likely to have difficulties with memory. It is recommended to chunk information and giving limited instructions will help with this. Also, ensure that you are always repeating and reinforcing your instructions. When it comes to completing tasks and assessments, focus on quality over quantity. Assign fewer questions to the student with Tourette’s, ensuring that they are only concentrating on the main and core skills required.
Given that the symptoms of Tourette’s wax and wane, observe what the triggers are for the student and take the appropriate actions to minimise the causes. It may be as simple as thinking about seating arrangements and where you place that student within the larger classroom context. When a student is having a difficult day make sure you have set up a safe place like a separate room that they can venture into to release their tics. The student must be aware that they aren’t constrained and can feel free to move. This will help with reducing tension, which is known to increase tics.
Written by Sarah Ali