Tourette's Syndome

General Information

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that often becomes apparent during a child’s elementary school years. Some research suggests that there is a genetic predisposition to develop the syndrome. Although Tourette’s is classified as a mental health difficulty, it is usually treated by a neurologist as well as a psychiatrist.

General Characteristics To Look For

  • the presence of multiple motor and vocal tics, although not necessarily simultaneously
  • multiple bouts of tics every day or intermittently for more than a year
  • changes in the frequency, number, and kind of tics and in their severity
  • marked distress or significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning, especially under stressful conditions
  • onset before age 18
  • child is driven to engage in distracting, repetitive behaviours.

Twenty-five percent of children report that they suffer from a tic at some point during their time at school. Many children dealing with Tourette’s are able to do so with no noticeable impact on their ability to function academically and socially. But many are driven to engage in distracting, repetitive behaviours. Tourette’s can seem deliberate, and it can be easy to overestimate the child’s ability to manage the behaviour, which can be as difficult as trying to make oneself stop sneezing.

Impact On Student Success

  • Tics, such as eye blinking or shoulder shrugging, can make it difficult for students to concentrate.
  • Suppressing tics is exhausting and takes energy away from learning.
  • Tics may be disruptive or offensive to teachers and classmates.
  • Peers may ridicule a student with Tourette’s or repeatedly “trigger” outbursts of tics to harass the student.
  • Tension and fatigue generally increase the frequency/severity of tics.
  • Be careful not to tell the child to “stop that” or “stay quiet.” Remember, it’s not that a student won’t stop, it’s that they simply can’t stop. Do not impose disciplinary action for tic behaviours.
  • Educate other students about Tourette’s disorder, encourage the student to provide his/her own explanations, and encourage peers to ignore tics whenever possible.
  • Help the student to recognize fatigue and the internal and external stimuli that trigger the onset of tics. Prearrange a signal and a safe place to go to relax or rest.
  • Provide a private, quiet place for test taking. Remove time limits when possible.
  • Reduce handwriting tasks and note taking. Provide assistive technology as needed.
  • Give students with Tourette’s special responsibilities that they can do well. Encourage them to show their skills in sports, music, art, or other areas.
  • Refer to community resources for an evaluation of sensory difficulties.
  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff.
  • Help educate the school and community about the needs of children with Tourette’s.
  • Seek specialized consultation and treatment to help the child manage symptoms.
  • Help ensure that children are engaged in activities where their skills can shine, unimpeded by the struggles of managing Tourette’s.
  • Help the child build a repertoire of stress management strategies.
  • Be available to the school and the community to offer information about Tourette’s.
  • Help students and parents/caregivers identity and use a child’s strengths to maintain a positive self-concept. Help family and children build and use stress management strategies.
  • Facilitate access to specialized assessment and treatment as needed. Provide treatment for secondary issues that may arise from coping with Tourette’s, such as self-esteem or anxiety concerns.