How does Tourettes affect children?

Hi again. I keep getting emails from concerned parents asking me the fundamental question:

“Ok my child has Tourettes. How will this condition affect their everyday regular activities? How will it affect their life?”

So I decided to actually create a post explaining my views on the matter.

Children with Tourette’s Syndrome usually have trouble with schoolwork such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is related to the neurological disorder that causes the Tourette’s Syndrome, yet is often misdiagnosed as a hyperactivity disorder. Children suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome often experience excessive compulsive symptoms; these can result in constant worrying, intrusive thoughts, and repetitive behaviors.

As an example, someone affected Tourette’s Syndrome may repetitively wash their hands for fear of germs or compulsively count steps as a way to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. They may also have very specific ways in which they want things to be set up for them, ordered, or laid out on a table. In addition, they will have issues with changes to their schedules.

This may manifest itself in an essential regular schedule each day where things occur at specific times (from when breakfast is served to when the child goes to bed). They may need to get dressed in the same order every day – such as underwear, pants, socks, shoes, shirt, and then hat. They may need a plate to be set out with a fork and spoon on one side and a knife on the other, with their drink cup set on the right hand side.

If your child is displaying this type of organizational behavior (directly related to OCD), do your best to accommodate them. Disrupting their schedule can be very bad for their development. Keep them to their schedule as much as humanly possible because that schedule helps them to stay focused and functional. Taking the structure away will often cause temper tantrums or irrational behavior that you cannot control.

Another aspect of how Tourette’s Syndrome affects children is that many children with the Syndrome are often reported to have problems with depression and/or anxiety disorders. This depression or anxiety, while not directly related to Tourette’s Syndrome, may be caused by the same neurological disorder that has brought about Tourette’s Syndrome.

Keep a careful eye on your child to see if he or she is being affected by anxiety or depression. Both of these types of feelings can be very detrimental to your child’s psyche and can cause the child to injure him or herself. Depression can show itself in excessive thinking, questions about existence that have a negative connotation, withdrawal from other people and things that he/she may have enjoyed being around before, frequent sad crying, and other similar behavior. Sometimes, those afflicted with depression will injure themselves as well.

Anxiety has a different type of manifestation. Often, children with anxiety will suddenly get stomach aches, or vomit when faced with important choices. They may also experience nausea when facing the possibility of going somewhere unfamiliar to them. They will often over-think things (such as if we go to the movies, what if this happens? What if this other thing happens?). The fear lies in the unknown and that unknown something or other can make the child be unwilling to do certain things or go certain places. This intransigence occurs because those things are unfamiliar or because he/she had a bad experience there.

Both anxiety and depression can be crippling to a child. He or she does not want to do anything, fears the unknown, and may experience mild to severe bodily manifestations of their anxiety or depression. Remember, your child has no control over these symptoms should they occur. He or she cannot be forced into not feeling anxiety and he or she cannot be forced into being happy.

In addition to OCD behavior, depression, and anxiety, children with Tourette’s Syndrome often suffer from both vocal and bodily tics. The early stages of these tics will begin to take effect during the first stages of a child’s development around the age of three. Throughout the first several years of elementary school, the child may develop additional and more severe tics, many of which alleviate themselves and disappear by early adulthood.

Except for the more violent self-mutilating or self-harming tics, the most adverse affect associated with Tourette’s Syndrome is the social detachment. Many children suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome have a very difficult time associating with other children. They often prefer their own company to the company of others, which will stunt their ability to function in a normal community or society.

Social detachment will show itself by a lack of desire to interact with other children. The child may play with him or herself even when other children are around; you might observe the kid refusing to play with other children even when they are approached by those children. The child might not want to share his or her toys or may allow the other child to take the toy and leave, preferring to sit quietly alone rather than play with the other child.

It is extremely difficult to pull your child out of this type of isolation. The only way to try to make this change is through introducing other people into the child’s world and creating warm and comfortable environments for interaction. Take your child with you as often as possible when you go places so that you can demonstrate social interaction by your own interaction with others and do your best to help them feel comfortable in social situations.

Learning disabilities play a large role in the lives of many children suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. The same brain makeup that plays a role in what is believed to be the cause of Tourette’s Syndrome, can also lead to other learning disabilities. This is why many children will require additional attention as well as patience to have a successful scholastic experience. The child may seriously struggle with coursework, fall behind, do poorly on assignments, or have trouble remembering what was covered in previous lessons.

Many programs nowadays work on improving a child’s ability to learn and do well in school. For instance, the Sylvan Learning Center provides tutoring that might be helpful to your child. However, other, more recent tutoring programs specifically target children with serious learning disabilities. Their programs understand that your child does want to learn but has a physical and chemical reason for struggling in school.

Never treat your child like he or she is stupid! This will only discourage him or her from trying to learn. He or she will then reject any attempts to improve upon learning disabilities and will not want to improve. It often has the absolute opposite effect than you might think – negative reinforcement will often discourage in this situation while positive reinforcement will help encourage.

It is definitely suggested that you have a tutor work with the child as often as possible to help him or her keep up in class. If you have the time and experience to do this yourself as the parent, you can help with tutoring, but still have a tutor nonetheless because tutoring a child with learning disabilities may be an arduous task that takes a lot of time and patience.

One interesting program that may prove particularly interesting in tutoring your child is the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. AVID focuses on teaching a child to take better notes, improve memory, and increase both the quantity and quality of information your student can learn and retain. Many schools have started implementing AVID programs to help along many of the students, which are having a difficult time in school. Find out if there is a program like this or this program itself at your child’s school and try to get him or her enrolled in it

Hope I answered most of your concerns! It’s a huge matter and one or two blog posts cannot cover it extensively but I think we did progress quite a bit today! :)

Remember: We can avoid all (most?) of the above by just a few simple dietary changes! Ok, maybe I am wrong or naive but I am a BIG believer in the old saying: “we are what we eat!”.

Stay frosty and God Bless!


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© Mary Anderson 2017.