Raising a Child with Tourette Syndrome: One Family's Story

Dealing with Teasing
Teasing and bullying unfortunately aren't uncommon for kids considered "different."
Teasing and bullying unfortunately aren't uncommon for kids considered "different."

While children with Tourette syndrome may experience near-constant tics, their minds and scholastic abilities are just as sharp as those of their peers. However, many teachers and administrators don't understand the condition well. Administrators may suggest putting the child in a special-needs class with students who have cognitive difficulties or learning disabilities. Teachers may treat him or her differently than they do other students or classify tics as class disruptions and punish the child accordingly.

Jaylen started his schooling in a private school that was well suited to his needs, but he eventually wanted to try attending public school. His parents agreed to give it a shot.

He tried to hold in his tics at school, but it's impossible to do for long. Jaylen compares it to stifling a sneeze. You may succeed for a few moments, but eventually, that sneeze is going to come out.

One day, unable to suppress his tics anymore, Jaylen began doing his "Oh no" tic. His classmates mimicked him, and soon, the whole class was laughing while a flummoxed substitute teacher attempted to restore order. Jaylen finally shouted, "It's not funny!" and a new verbal tic was born.

Like many kids who are mocked and made miserable in school, he went out of his way not to bring the bullying to the attention of teachers or adults. His stock answer when asked how he was doing was that everything was OK. His responses gave school officials the confidence to reassure his mother that the school environment wasn't adversely affecting his condition.

But, of course, it was. Tics kick into overdrive when kids are excited, upset or otherwise psychologically stimulated. Even after they've calmed down, it can take many weeks for the tics to return to their usual level. Jaylen's became so intense and constant that it took him 10 minutes to tell his mother in three sentences how his day went. He was literally chewing through the lapels and shoulders of his shirts, which needed constant replacement. (Though this seems like a nervous response, his shirt-chewing was actually a tic; it required a dental intervention due its frequency and intensity.) Jaylen was ticcing so hard that he was striking himself in the ribs, leaving bruises. His muscles ached, and he was constantly sore to the point of not being able to sleep at night.

His parents withdrew him from school, and Jaylen stayed home for several months until the cycle of heightened ticcing ran its course. When the tics eventually calmed down, his parents re-entered him into a private school. With a better student-to-teacher ratio, an understanding and supportive administration, and the presence of friends who had grown up with him, Jaylen was happy and productive once again.

This isn't to say that private schools are better for children with Tourette syndrome. However, it does illustrate the need to carefully consider and monitor a child's entry into a new school environment. Some parents of children with Tourette syndrome choose to homeschool their kids instead of picking a public or private school.

Next, we'll talk about some methods for helping a child with Tourette syndrome.