A Guide for Paraprofessionals Working with Students with TS

Kathy Giordano, Tourette Association Education Specialist

Paraprofessionals working with Students with Tourette

Experiencing a safe school environment, in which he or she can learn and feel supported is essential for a student’s success. A paraprofessional and/or aide can play an important role in obtaining this sense of school safety by providing positive supports. Positive supports can enhance the student’s decision making skills and encourage their taking opportunities. At the same time, they may act as an essential component in reducing anxiety and promoting academic and social growth.

The student must know that the paraprofessional is on his side, as someone who provides appropriate supports and acts as a safety net or buffer, instead of an adult who is only there to “police” them. This may help to decrease the student’s stress and reduce tic symptoms, thereby resulting in a more successful education environment.

Before working with the student, the aide/paraprofessional should be provided information regarding Tourette Syndrome (TS) and be educated on how specific symptoms of TS and related disorders affect the student.

The following are suggestions for developing a trusted relationship between a student and a paraprofessional:

        • Schedule time for the paraprofessional to meet with a teacher, a consultant teacher and/or counselor on a regular basis to discuss any questions or concerns that may arise.
        • It might be useful for the paraprofessional to work with other students when the student with TS does not require assistance.  This way, the paraprofessional will be perceived as an assistant to the entire class, and may minimize stigma placed on the student with TS. Working with other students develops an environment of normalcy, and reduces the appearance that the student with TS is the only one in need of assistance.
        • Do not take behaviors personally. Understanding that TS is a complex disorder consisting of symptoms that are unique to the individual and beyond their control may prevent any anger and frustrations shown towards the student.
        • Recognize the student’s talents and strengths. They can be a resource for developing a positive relationship and building self-esteem. For example, by talking to a student about his interests, the paraprofessional can assist in boosting self-esteem. The student’s talents and strengths may also be used as a calming or refocusing strategy.
        • Negative consequences and punishment are not typically effective for students with TS, because the symptoms of TS are not within the control of the child. The cause of the student’s behaviors are neurological and not purposeful, even though it may appear that way. Positive and proactive interventions can be used to reinforce new strategies and skills in managing the student’s symptoms.
        • The paraprofessional’s input can be important when determining whether specific strategies are successful or not. By being tuned in to the student’s needs, a paraprofessional can assist in developing and implementing proactive and positive strategy as part of the child’s behavior plan. Paraprofessionals can assist students with social skills deficits by working in conjunction with a counselor and speech therapist. They can reinforce the skills and techniques that the student learned in their sessions with the counselor and speech therapist. Reinforcing social skills strategies that were taught in a one-on-one setting will assist the student in carrying out these skills naturally.
        • Interactions with peers are crucial to developing social skills and building relationships. It’s important to know when to step back. However, the paraprofessional can be extremely helpful in discouraging teasing and bullying.
        • It’s important that the paraprofessional keep in mind that his or her role is to provide educational assistance and not counseling, and should never take on the role of advisor or therapist for the student. Students with TS may require counseling support, but it must be from a person trained as a counselor and familiar with TS.
        • Be aware of the messages you are sending to the student.  Students with TS need to know that this person sees them as a student who has with some difficult symptoms and not as a student who is trying to be difficult.
        • It may be helpful to periodically assess the student’s well-being to determine the fit and type of support of the paraprofessional for the student. There may be situations where it works well to have the same paraprofessional work with a student year after year. Other times, it may be necessary to rotate paraprofessionals if the relationship between the student and the paraprofessional does not foster educational independence. This should not be seen as failure – only that the situation needs to be changed for the well-being of the student.
        • For children with mood or rage issues, the paraprofessional can often recognize an increase in frustration or anxiety. The paraprofessional can reduce these pressures by implementing positive and proactive support.
        • A short debriefing session at the end of the school day may be invaluable in assisting with the transition from school to home. It may be helpful for the teacher or paraprofessional to privately ask the student to tell him or her one thing that was stressful during the day and one thing that was successful. This can be very helpful to some students as it allows them an opportunity to validate their difficulties as well as accomplishments for that day. Having a positive activity at the end of the school day may help to reduce this anxiety and stress.

It must be noted that symptoms of TS and its associated difficulties are different for each student. These vary dramatically from student to student and one must never generalize one student’s difficulties, symptoms or successful strategies to be representative of all students with TS. Remember, the only thing consistent about TS is the inconsistencies.

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The information presented in this material was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreeent Number CDC-RFA-DD13-1302 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the offical views of the CDC. The information is intended for the reference of and use by medical and allied professionals and educators. The material is displayed with the permission of the authors/publishers.