The Fall 2002 article by Bob Moser1 was found on the Teaching Tolerance website. This article highlights the many manifestations of Tourette Syndrome and the challenges that a classroom teacher must face in order to educate a child with Tourette.
Meet Zak and Johnathan
The article entitled A Fragile Peace, by Bob Moser, details the manifestations of Tourette Syndrome in two boys who attend Albuquerque public schools. Zak, a fifth grader, is what I readily imagined a child with Tourette to be: he has many tics ranging from squirming, to spitting, barking, and even the infamous coprolalia (the screaming of obscenities). Johnathan on the other hand appears to be a diligent student, intensely focused as he reads. As it turns out, Johnathan’s Tourette manifests itself in combination with OCD and so he is often completely absorbed in minutia and unable to focus on broader concepts. Also, Johnathan’s perfectionism isolates him from the rest of his class because his peers perceive him to be abrasive in nature.
Tourette in the Classroom
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that can present itself in many ways that educators may mistake as behavioral in nature. In Moser’s article we read that Johnathan’s fourth grade teacher treated Johnathan exactly the same as all of the other children in the class. As such, when Johnathan failed to return his homework to school he was punished despite the fact that he was incapable of recalling that he had been assigned work. Zak’s symptoms of Tourette actually increased as he attempted to suppress his tics in school. (Suppression exhausted Zak and this stress in turn brought about new tics.) Also, Zak needed accommodations in his classroom in order to keep up with other students. For example, due to the magnitude of his neurological tics, Zak was unable to read small print and typing. Additionally, Zak benefited from the use of a semi-enclosed workspace for tasks that required a lot of focus.
What struck me most about this article was not the fact that students who are diagnosed with Tourette cannot just be flung into a classroom unaided. I was not uncomfortable with the idea that there is no definitive answer to the question of how to accommodate a child with Tourette. There are many disorders or diagnoses that require case-by-case attention. I was, on the other hand, interested to read that in order to draw these two children into their classroom communities they held in-service forums wherein both Zak and Johnathan were able to explain Tourette Syndrome to their classmates and answer their questions about it in turn. I feel that this sort of experience enables the class a safe space to test out their questions about Tourette. Also, I think that the process could be an important learning experience for the child with Tourette. I often find that when adults explain matters to children it is much less effective than when children talk to one another. Truly, social inclusion will not stem from adult intervention. It comes from educators creating a safe space for children to reach out to one another and find a common ground that they can build upon.2