A lack of awareness about Tourette Syndrome may lead to problems in the classroom, therefore understanding from school staff is crucial to the child’s well-being. Parents can help teachers and school staff understand the involuntary nature of symptoms of TS.
Creating the correct environment of understanding in the classroom is essential and can help students with TS develop their confidence and flourish at school. Productive discussion between parent and teacher as often as needed can help create a positive, stimulating learning environment. It can help your child thrive as a student, and your teacher gain skills that can facilitate their teaching approach.
The challenges for children with TS are best addressed with effective and clear communication between school and home. Schools should ensure that Individual Education Plans (IEPs) take full account of a pupil’s needs.
Managing and Handling Behaviors
Specific strategies used by experienced teachers which are known to be particularly helpful for children with TS, while minimizing the impact on the classroom as a whole, include:
- Seating children with TS at the front of the classroom, which may enhance their focus and attention.
- Providing “time-out” passes or an arrangement for a student to leave the classroom temporarily. They may be given an assignment to bring a report to the principal, or they may prefer to go to the school nurse or counselor. (Breaks can relieve tension and allow the student to “stretch their legs” so that they are less restless or distracted by a bout of tics while in the classroom.
- Providing designated areas where tics may be expressed. If all involved agree to this type of plan, some relief from possible tic suppression may help the student refocus a few moments later. The suppression of tics increases anxiety and drains the student of energy, which led to sub-optimal educational performance.
- Encourage all school personnel to respond to tics in a positive and accepting manner. Anything judgmental or harsh will increase anxiety, discomfort and discouragement.
- Breaking down longer assignments into shorter tasks.
- Removing unnecessary objects from desks.
- Permitting students to “fiddle” with specified objects.
- Using visual aids such as scribes, rulers, laptops, visual timers, grid paper, calculators, organizers and visual diaries. Such aids can be help the student focus, and are often very supportive.
- Emphasizing effort over presentation in written work. The child may indeed understand the work; they may not be able to write it neatly. This can help relieve anxiety.
- Using worksheets that require a minimum of handwriting. Alternatively, using computers or other devices may allow the student to demonstrate learning, bypassing handwriting challenges.
- Pairing students with supportive and understanding “buddies.”
- Developing work contracts between teachers and student that outline particular expectations and provide clear goals. In many instances, this process encourages the student to communicate to the teacher about their experience as learners and discuss ways to provide supports.
Meeting with Teachers
Before the beginning of every academic year or school term, request a meeting with teachers to provide them with Tourette Association resource materials, establish a positive working relationship, and answer any questions the staff may have. At the first sign of your child struggling in school academically or socially, you will want to speak with your child’s teacher to determine how you can work as a team so that your child can be successful. Keep documents, records, notes and information regarding meetings and phone conversations in a file for future reference.
Parents may want to connect with the teacher before the start of the school year and discuss TS awareness education for the teacher, other school staff – especially the child’s bus drivers, and the child’s classmates. At this age, children look to adults to set the rules. If any kind of TS in-service is given, please first be sure your child understands what is happening and is comfortable with this.
A teacher can help establish a supportive environment for everyone regarding acceptance and respect, and create powerful allies and supports for the student with TS. Parents should make sure the teacher understands the specific impact of TS on their child and enlist the help of the teacher or a social worker, if needed, to promote awareness in the classroom. Age-appropriate visual aids can be helpful in classroom presentations — pictures, illustrations, or a short video are all good ideas. Another option is to ask an older child (a sibling, another child with TS, or a member of the TS Youth Ambassadors) to address the class with a simple and understandable message. Keep in mind that TS expresses itself differently in each individual.
Once students are in middle school, peer-to-peer interactions begin to take priority in their lives, and this may prompt new communication and bullying prevention strategies. While parents should make sure teachers and school staff understand TS, they should also help their child if comfortable, to take the lead in advocating for themselves and educating classmates about TS. In this way, students can gain the respect of peers. A fellow student who is already aware of TS might be enlisted to help educate other classmates, or the subject could become part of a class-wide discussion of what makes each student unique. Such a discussion would naturally open the door for students with TS to talk about their own experience with TS.
In the teen years, the development of self-advocacy skills is critical. Students with TS should take the lead in deciding how best to educate classmates about TS and how to tell their personal story. When teens decide to educate their classmates about TS, they should keep in mind the nature of the information they’re sharing and the interests, maturity level and motivations of the audience. Schools that encourage peer leadership approaches will enhance the steps taken by your child to self-advocate, and foster acceptance among the other students.
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