Tourette syndrome is estimated to affect roughly 2% of the world’s population. This neurological disorder, while relatively rare, can severely impact a child’s learning and social development. Tourette syndrome falls under the other health impairment (OHI) category of special education services; however, not every child with Tourette syndrome requires or is eligible for special education services. Much like all OHI cases, eligibility specifically depends on how severely the child’s learning is impacted by the health impairment, or severity of Tourette syndrome in this case.
Fact: While exact causes are unknown, Tourette syndrome is a genetically-linked, neurobiological disorder marked by involuntary vocal outburst and uncontrollable sudden movements (tics). For most, the tics involve rapid blinking, facial spasms or distinct, uncontrollable expressions. They can encompass a range of slight to severe body movements such as twisting of the shoulders, neck, or head.
Fiction: A common misconception of Tourette syndrome is that sufferers blurt out or yell obscenities, foul language, or make other inappropriate exclamations. While this is true for a very small percentage of sufferers, the majority of Tourette’s cases do not exhibit this symptom. Instead, most vocal symptoms involve slight to severe screeching, groaning/grunting, snorting/sniffing, clicking or other glottal stops that resemble throat clearing.
Fact: Statistics indicate that Tourette syndrome is four times more prevalent in boys than girls. Additionally, a person whose family member has Tourette syndrome is more likely to develop it during childhood; however, family members’ symptoms can differ drastically.
Fiction: The notion that tics occur at random and never subside is typically untrue. While tics and vocalizations are uncontrollable, they are often brought on by or made worse by stressful situations, anxiety, or another illness. Furthermore, most cases of Tourette syndrome see a drastic lessening of symptoms through late teenage years and into young adulthood. While some sufferers may experience tics or vocalizations throughout their entire lives, most will grow out of these symptoms.
Fact: Most children with Tourette syndrome experience an onset of initial symptoms around age 6-10.
Fiction: Because of the physical symptoms and the general public’s unawareness of the syndrome, some consider Tourette’s to be a behavioral condition or believe it is linked to an emotional disturbance of some kind. This is untrue, however, and is a major reason why Tourette syndrome was added as an “other health impairment” condition under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Fact: Tourette syndrome is often characterized by other common comorbid conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ADHD, Dyslexia, and anxiety/mood disorders. Furthermore, over half of children with Tourette syndrome report difficulty falling or staying asleep due to tics. Because of this, children with sleep issues often go to school feeling fatigued and/or restless and are unable to focus for lengths of time.
Fiction: Some consider Tourette syndrome to be unmanageable—this is simply false. For those with severe symptoms, neuroleptics, stimulant meds, and many antianxiety/antidepressant drugs may be used to manage symptoms. Because medications can have major side effects and are not always effective for every case of Tourette syndrome, behavioral interventions such as awareness training to help manage or suppress tics can be beneficial as well.