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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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Tourette's syndrome is a neurological condition characterised by a combination of  involuntary noises and movements called  tics.

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Causes of Tourette's syndrome

  • Tourette's syndrome (TS) is a complex neurological condition and it is not yet known what causes it. 
  • The condition is hereditary and a person with TS has roughly a 50% chance of passing it onto their children.
  • So far no single gene has been convincingly identified and exactly how TS is inherited is not clear. 

Symptoms of Tourette's syndrome

  • Key features of Tourette's syndrome (TS) are tics, involuntary and uncontrollable sounds and movements.
  • Each person with TS will have different tics and will experience diverse symptoms.
  • 10% of people with TS have a swearing tic, which is called coprolalia.
  • TS typically starts in childhood and the typical age of diagnosis in the UK is seven years. 
  • For about half the children with TS the condition will continue into adulthood. The other 50% will see a reduction in the symptoms of their TS by the end of their teenage years. 

Treatments for Tourette's syndrome

  • Although there is no cure for Tourette's syndrome (TS) there are reports of different drugs being used successfully in a small number of TS patients.
  • Behaviour therapy is also a way of helping to control tics rather than taking medication and it is possible to use behavioural therapy alongside medical treatments.
  • The emerging popular psychological treatment for TS is known as CBiT (Comprehensive Behavioural intervention for Tics).

Supporting students with Tourette's syndrome

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  • Tourette's syndrome is not caused by bad parenting or abuse.
  • When children can suppress their tics at school this may lead to increased tics and behaviours at home.
  • Home may be a safe place to let tics out. However, this does mean that homework can be especially hard.

Managing tics

  • Try not to respond too much to tics as this can normalise them. However, often tics are humorous and it would be un-natural not to recognise this.
  • It may be helpful to provide time and space for tics to be let out in private, thus lessening the build-up of tension.
  • A ‘time out’ card would allow the student to go to the designated place without causing too much disruption if it becomes unbearable for them.
  • Try to avoid seating arrangements where tics will cause the greatest disruption, for example the middle of rows or near something breakable.
  • Sitting at the front of the class can improve attention but sometimes this makes the tics visible to everyone and so should be avoided.

Help with learning

  • Modify tasks or requirements some activities are much harder for students with Tourette's syndrome. Especially handwriting and other activities requiring fine motor skills.
  • Distribute instructions rather than asking students to copy long instructions or homework.
  • Tics may make handwriting difficult do not mark the student down for poor handwriting.

Additional stress

  • Exams are stressful for all students and especially so for a child with TS. Investigate and apply for special arrangements such as separate rooms or allowing rest breaks for exams.
  • As TS often worsens at the age of transition this can be especially difficult and may well require extra planning and support.

More information

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)