With Tourette’s Syndrome gaining increasing interest in the media over the past couple of years, I began to notice a difference in how this neurological condition is discussed in comparison to others, particularly in the world of Education. Dyslexia, Autism and other Specific Learning Differences are widely discussed across our education system and recognised not only as learning differences, but it is accepted (on the whole!) that differentiation, adjustments and accommodations must be made in schools to support the diverse learning needs of its students. However, it appears that as yet Tourette’s Syndrome is often not seen as an Educational Issue, that it is somehow not on our ‘agenda’.
Although Tourette’s isn’t classified under the umbrella of ‘Specific Learning Differences’, it has just as significant an impact on learning as SpLD’s such as Dyslexia or Dyscalculia, and I believe deserves that same level of awareness, understanding and accommodation across mainstream schools. As a teacher myself I know how many of you sit in training sessions about learning differences, special educational needs and teaching strategies to suit all, and I know how much work we teachers have on our many spinning plates! But I also know how much we want to create a learning environment in which ALL of our children succeed and that we really do want every child to have a happy, safe and successfully time at school. So this blog aims to make this one extra bit of training super fast, super easy and super helpful!
Well first of all this is me, some of you may know me already, Emma Mahon-Teacher, Specialist Specific Learning Differences Consultant and founder of ‘Neurodiverse Learning’.
Paul, Georgia and I are really pleased to share with you our Ten Minute Training- Tourette's Edition!
10 things the child with
wants every Teacher to know.
- Tourette’s Syndrome affects more than 300,000 children and adults in the UK.
- Tourette’s Syndrome is a Neurological difference. We would not describe Dyslexia, Autism or other learning differences as a ‘habit’, so please do not describe Tourette’s in this way.
- The most noticeable ‘outward’ identifier of Tourette’s are Tics. Tics can be Motor Tics or Sound Tics. Motor Tics can include eye movements, head movements, facial expressions and in more extreme cases larger body movements, jumping, spinning and hitting oneself. Sound Tics can include making involuntary noises such as yelling, throat clearing, coughing and in more extreme cases can include saying random words and phrases, Echolalia- repeating words/phrases, and Coprolalia- saying socially inappropriate words/phrases or swearing, which can sometimes be coupled with socially inappropriate hand gestures. Only 5-15% of people with Tourette’s have Coprolalia! It really isn’t just about swearing!
- Some students with Tourette’s are very good at suppressing tics, particularly in school, however the processing demand of supressing tics can cause chronic exhaustion. We must remember that supressing does not get rid of tics, but simply puts them ‘on hold’. Remember that tics, motor or sound, should always be ignored and we should never ask a student to stop a tic.
- Anxiety is one of the most significant underlying factors of Tourette’s, often causing a considerable barrier to learning. Students with Tourette’s who supress their tics can feel overwhelmingly anxious about their supressed tics ‘building up’.
- As part of the vast spectrum of Neurodiversity, Tourette’s is often accompanied by comorbidities. Some people can have pure Tourette’s Syndrome, but this is rare. The most common co-occurring differences are Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Functioning Memory Deficits, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder.
- There are so many positives to Tourette’s! Research has shown that students with Tourette’s are more likely to have superior cognitive control. This can lead to enhanced cognitive processing in many areas such as language based tasks, visual processing tasks and motor coordination tasks.
- Students with Tourette’s can highly benefit from a calm, private space in school to release tics when needed. Students can be given ‘time out’ cards to discretely signal when they need time out of class. This can dramatically reduce anxiety and mean that students are ready to learn and have fun back in the classroom!
- Use positive language during class instructions- for example “Can you please sit down” rather than “Stop standing up.” Negatively phrased instructions can trigger compulsions that result in the student not complying with instructions or rules, through no fault of their own.
- RAISE AWARENESS AND PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING- when a student with Tourette’s knows that their teachers and peers understand, their anxiety can be reduced and they are morel likely to feel that they are accepted. As well as just awareness of Tourette’s, you could discuss the whole Neurodiversity paradigm across your school community!