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Tourette syndrome is a neuropsychiatric disorder that causes physical and verbal tics. This lesson focuses on what you can do as an effective and empathic teacher of students of all ages with Tourette syndrome.

When a Student Has Tourette Syndrome

As a fourth grade teacher, Ms. Lees has had plenty of experience with students who have diverse learning needs. She teaches in an inclusive setting and strives to establish a strong community in which all her learners can thrive.For the first time, Ms. Lees will have a student with Tourette syndrome in her class.

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Tourette syndrome is a neuropsychiatric condition, meaning it has its roots in the brain; it causes tics, or involuntary movements or utterances.Ms. Lees knows that there are many stereotypes associated with Tourette syndrome; she wants to avoid these pitfalls and be a good teacher to her student. She sets about learning as much as she can about Tourette syndrome.

Get to Know the Whole Child

Ms. Lees understands that Tourette syndrome is only one part of the child who has it. As she gets to know her students, she tries to get to know them as whole, individual people with many different facets, including:

  • What are their strengths in and out of school?
  • What are some of their academic, social and emotional struggles?
  • What ideas and topics are they most passionate about?

Only after Ms.

Lees determines some of the answers to these questions does she focus more on Tourette syndrome specifically. Now, she asks the following questions of family members and other service providers:

  • What are the tics that this student most commonly displays?
  • What kinds of situations and accommodations help ameliorate the tics?
  • What kinds of situations and accommodations exacerbate the tics?
  • How much does the student already understand about Tourette syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome: Frequent Issues

Ms. Lees learns that Tourette syndrome frequently occurs alongside other problems. Sometimes, Tourette syndrome causes other issues, which may occur comorbidly.For instance, due to tics and sensory integration issues, many students with Tourette syndrome may also experience dysgraphia, or difficulties with writing and spelling.

They may also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, or have difficulties with expressive language.

Minimize Anxiety

Ms. Lees learns that many students with Tourette syndrome will have more pronounced symptoms when faced with anxiety and stress. Though it’s not accurate to say that tics are caused by anxiety, and certainly not every student with Tourette syndrome is anxious, it’s usually true that tics become more frequent and pronounced when a student is under stress.Ms. Lees tries to minimize the anxiety her student experiences during the school day. She keeps expectations high but reasonable, speaks in gentle, encouraging tones with her whole class and works to scaffold challenging emotional and academic situations.

Ms. Lees provides her students with stress balls they can use when they’re feeling worried. She also teaches them a signal they can use when they feel they need a short break from the classroom.

Ignore, Accept and Accommodate

Another thing Ms. Lees learns is that there are three different approaches to student tics in the classroom: ignore, accept and accommodate. She tries to use all of them over the course of the school day.


Many times, tics can be ignored. It might take some practice to ignore a tic, but whenever possible, this is what Ms. Lees aims to do.

When not a matter of student safety, calling attention to tics can increase a student’s sense of stress and self-consciousness. This can make the symptoms worse.


Ms. Lees also understands that tics are often just one aspect of a student with Tourette syndrome, and she should not try to change this aspect of the child. Just as she accepts other idiosyncrasies from her students and they accept her for whom she is, she works on accepting these tics.


Finally, Ms.

Lees understands that some of her student’s tics require accommodations. She makes space in the back of the classroom so that motor tics will not cause injury. She lets her student leave class early to make it to the school bus without anxiety. She also gives her student extra time to complete certain assignments.

Ms. Lees knows that accommodations will look different for students with Tourette syndrome. However, they’re usually oriented toward minimizing stress and fatigue and reducing any potential danger associated with tics.Some of the accommodations Ms. Lees uses most frequently include:

  • Special pencil grips and sensory integration devices to address dysgraphia and a need for sensory input
  • Opportunities to take breaks or do assignments more slowly than other students
  • Frequent check-ins with families, other teachers and ancillary service providers about student symptoms and progress
  • Scaffolding and previewing of difficult academic and social scenarios
  • Preferential seating to make it easier for the student to follow instruction and signal for help.

Help Classmates Understand

Finally, Ms.

Lees knows that one of her most important jobs is to demystify Tourette syndrome for the rest of her students, or help them understand what is going on for the student who has it. She brings in guest speakers to teach about Tourette syndrome and helps her students understand some of the causes of tics. She works hard to ensure that her student with Tourette syndrome enjoys social acceptance. There’s no teasing or bullying in Ms. Lees’ classroom community.

Lesson Summary

Tourette syndrome is a neuropsychiatric condition rooted in the brain. Symptoms include tics, or involuntary movements or utterances, which may be exacerbated by anxiety and stress.Begin by getting to know your student as a whole person and work on minimizing anxiety in the classroom. Figure out what tics you can ignore, accept or accommodate, and help demystify Tourette syndrome for classmates to improve a sense of community in your classroom.

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