Five Things College Professors Need to Know About Tourette Syndrome

It may surprise you to learn that you have probably taught a student with Tourette Syndrome (TS), and will likely again. Educators, physicians, and families frequently do not recognize symptoms associated with TS. Tourette and Chronic Tic Disorders impact 1 in 100 students.  Education and awareness are the building blocks for helping students with TS succeed in the classroom.

  1. TS is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms that include involuntary repetitive movements and sounds called tics. Tics wax and wane and can change unpredictably. Stress typically increases symptoms, including frequency of tics.
  2. Motor tics are tics that cause a movement. Simple motor tics include eye blinking, facial grimacing, jaw movements, head bobbing/jerking, shoulder shrugging, neck stretching, and arm jerking. Complex motor tics involve multiple muscle groups or combinations of movements and tend to be slower and more purposeful in appearance, e.g., hopping, twirling, jumping, pacing.
  3. Vocal (phonic) tics are tics that produce a movement of air. Simple vocal tics include sniffing, throat clearing, grunting, barking, and shouting. Complex vocal tics are words or phrases that may or may not be recognizable. In 10-15% of cases, the words may be inappropriate (i.e., swear words, ethnic slurs, or other socially unacceptable words or phrases). This type of vocal tic, called coprolalia, is often portrayed or mocked in the media as a common symptom of TS. However, coprolalia is not necessary for a diagnosis of TS and, when present, is not always a permanent feature of the condition.
  4. TS commonly co-occurs with a number of other neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric conditions. The most common co-occurring conditions include the following: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), learning difficulties, processing problems, behavior challenges, anxiety, social skills deficits, handwriting difficulties, and sleep problems. The characteristics of these conditions are often more problematic and harder to manage than the tics.
  5. Tourette Syndrome does not affect an individual’s intelligence. Many people with TS are identified as gifted and talented.


To assist educators, The Tourette Association offers a variety of programs and materials designed to help with recognition and management of TS symptoms in the classroom and school environment.  For specific strategies that you can use to help students with TS succeed in your course, please refer to Ten Things College Professors can do for Students with Tourette Syndrome.