Is Tourette’s a learning disability?

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Although Tourette syndrome is classed as a disability in many countries, it isn’t regarded as a learning disability. Tourette syndrome does not impact intelligence, however it can be a disruption to learning.

Below is an account from a sufferer, explaining how Tourette syndrome has made learning difficult.


“I realized that I was being treated differently in Year 6 (Grade 5) of school when I took my exams. I was placed in a separate exam hall to my friends, despite having very good English skills.

I had a teacher read every question to me, despite my ability to read, and it confused me. I was very hyperactive and sometimes found it difficult to focus on work, but in exams I was usually fine because I wasn’t allowed to speak.”


Why was this the case?

It could be that children with Tourette syndrome often experience co-occurring conditions. Conditions regularly co-occurring with Tourette are OCD, ADHD and anxiety disorders.

It could be that any one of these conditions has been seen as an obstacle to learning, even if the child didn’t think this to be the case.

The below poster created by Tourette’s-Action in the UK shows how many ways Tourette can affect an individual.

Tourette itself does not impair intelligence

Tourette may not be classed as a learning disability as the syndrome does not impair intelligence directly.

But there are many factors that can disrupt learning, many seen in the poster above.

Tourette’s Action states that:

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is not a learning disability but some of the symptoms and co-occurring conditions can have a substantial impact on a child’s ability to learn. It is important that children with TS are properly supported at school to help them reach their full potential.

Tourette’s Action

The UK charity has great information on their ‘Information for Teachers‘ page, that can be viewed here.

The following are ways in which a child with Tourette syndrome may find learning difficult.

Carrying out tics

Tics by nature are very disruptive. Although the act is involuntary, the experience and sensation of doing a tic is very conscious. These can often be painful, exhausting and embarrassing.

Supressing tics

Some people with TS are able to suppress tics briefly.

Doing a tic is often compared to scratching an itch. The sensation of holding it in can be overwhelming and easily distracts us from what we are doing.

Embarrassment

Tics can be very embarrassing, even in the most mild form.

Children can be very self conscious, at a time when making friends and fitting in is very important. Knowing other children- or even teachers- are staring because of tics can easily distract from learning.

Anxiety

Bullying is sadly very common for children with Tourette.

Anxiety is often present with TS, even without bullying present. Anxiety can be debilitating and can make focus impossible.

ADHD

ADHD is another very common condition associated with Tourette syndrome.

Being able to focus can be very difficult for some children with tics, not to mention having tics on top of this.

Sensory issues

Sensory problems can make certain situations unbearable, and can come from experiencing an uncomfortable uniform or classroom chair.

Such small changes to a child’s learning environment can drastically increase their happiness, productivity and wellbeing.

Sleep issues

Sleep is very important for learning and development.

According to this PubMed article, up to 80% of Tourette patients experience sleep disorders.

This will do doubt cause disruptions in learning and focus.

Many people with TS go on to be very successful

Ending this post on a positive note, many sufferers have been able to find their strengths and go on to be very successful in their field.

Very notable examples come from professional athletes, musicians, pilots, police officers and even brain surgeons.

Although Tourette can be disruptive, children and adults can experience a very positive increase in focus levels, tic reduction and happiness when involved in something they find to be stimulating and rewarding.

It is very important to help children with Tourette find what this is, in a comfortable learning environment.

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