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A preteen boy with Tourette Syndrome smiles as he participates in a large group activity.
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Special Needs Ministry: Assisting a Child With Tourette Syndrome

If you have a child in your classroom who appears to have problems with muscle and vocal control, it may be Tourette syndrome. Here are some strategies to help.

Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that causes repeated involuntary body movements (tics) such as blinking, twitching, shoulder shrugging, or leg jerking. The vocal sounds can be throat clearing, soft clicking, or sniffing. While the exact cause of Tourette’s isn’t known, research suggests it is an inherited genetic condition.

This is a spectrum disorder which means it can have mild symptoms or very intense symptoms, including loud grunting, barking, meowing, or repeating words or phrases. Yet symptoms usually become milder as the child grows older.

Tourette syndrome typically appears during childhood (most often between 5 and 7 years old) and occurs for at least one year. It affects three to four times more males than females, and it’s estimated that 1 out of every 160 children has Tourette’s. There can be additional problems involving obsessions (sometimes called a mental tic), compulsion/ritualistic behavior, and various learning difficulties.

Children with Tourette syndrome have a challenge they can’t control. That’s the one thing above all other things we need to remember as we minister to these children. After that, establish a classroom that’ll most help the child with the problems related to the syndrome.

Use these strategies for working with a child who has Tourette syndrome.

  • Give the child permission to leave class whenever tics become too much, so the child can “get the tics out” in private. Create a plan for leaving that ensures the child is supervised.
  • Provide short breaks for the child.
  • Ask the child if he or she feels comfortable reading aloud.
  • Use lots of pictures and graphs for the child to refer back to for direction.
  • Give one or two directions at a time.
  • Use a light touch on the shoulder to redirect listening.
  • Be patient and model acceptance. Ignore the tics as much as possible.
  • Allow the child to sit wherever he or she feels most comfortable; many times the child will choose to be near the door for an easy exit.
  • Allow the child to work in whatever position feels most relaxed.
  • Establish good communication with the child’s parents.
  • In most cases, maintain the same expectations for the child as you have for the rest of your class.
  • Be aware of medications the child may be taking and any side effects of the medication.
  • Maintain a classroom environment that’s tolerant and accepting. Children can be very helpful if they’re brought into the circle of understanding the syndrome.
  • Assess any accommodations you’ve made to see if they’ve been effective. Use this information to continue to adapt your setting to help the child.
  • Teach the child how God makes each one of us special (Psalm 139:14).

Sally Castle is a retired professor emerita of education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

Want more articles regarding children with special needs? Check out these posts

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