Yesterday I posted this as my Facebook status:
Brave. That is what our son is. Unbelievably brave. Today we told his class about his Tourette syndrome diagnosis. On his own, Louis* decided to show them ALL the tics…
The throat clear, whistle, growl, eye blinking-widening-crossing, bunny nose, grimace, middle finger-snap AND the ankle turn.
This kid is AMAZING.
I had several private messages asking what we did during the presentation. First, my husband and I feel strongly that children should be respected. TS is Louis’ diagnosis and we listen to his thoughts and concerns. He was diagnosed in 1st grade but his tics never bothered him enough to warrant an in-class discussion. He wanted to talk to peers 1:1 as they had questions. That changed this year.
Louis is now in 5th grade and his tics have grown increasingly complex and happen all day long. They affect his school, sport, and play experience. While we are thankful he has not been bullied, his greatest concerns were:
- People watching him
- People judging/making fun of him
This manifested in school avoidance and angry outbursts at home. One of his tics gives him a headache from it’s repetition, so visits to the school nurse have become daily trips.
On Monday my husband and I met with the school principal to discuss implementing a 504 Plan which includes classroom accommodations or modifications. For instance, Louis’ eye blinking tic increased during timed math tests as he was trying harder not to tic. A simple accommodation was extended time.
While we were in the office there was a knock at the door. The school secretary handed the principal a note. From Louis. He had come to the office to tell him his tics were really bad and he was having a hard time in class. He was hoping to talk to the principal about what he could do.
No. He didn’t know we were in there.
Yes. He is an amazing kid.
The principal called him in and we included him in the discussion of what we could do to support him. In addition to brainstorming with us Louis decided that it was a good time to talk to the class. We hoped to complete the presentation with the school counselor in a few weeks.
The week got worse. His headaches got worse. His anxiety got worse. While his close friends knew about the diagnosis, other children in the class noticed some of the exceptions Louis had in class and started to comment. A child said to him, “Why do you get extra time to take this test. You think you’re special?” Louis’ friend interrupted telling the child that Louis, “Is his own person. Stop bothering him.” This friend didn’t know about the TS diagnosis.
It was time.
Friday was Louis’ in class birthday treat. It was the perfect time to talk to the class. We had just been to Louis’ neurologist to talk about the increased complications with his tics. We arrived back at school just after lunch. I piled three large boxes of Oreos in front of the class and the principal introduced me. He started by talking about how the kids are getting older and they are changing and many people have things that are a little different. Different is okay.
Here is how we chose to talk to the class. Louis and I had created a simple Prezi. First I asked if anyone had heard of Tourette syndrome. A few hands went up. I asked them what they thought. No one really knew the word, but Louis’ friend raised his hand. When I called on him he said, “It’s when your body moves and you can’t control it.” I told them Louis has TS. I told them people with TS have movements called tics. (“EW!”) You can’t catch them. They’re not bugs. They’re body movements or sounds.
I started to hand out Oreos. Want to get kids to listen? Give them food. The principal brought up the Prezi picture of a pink elephant. I said, “While I hand these out I don’t want you to think of a pink elephant. You many NOT think about a pink elephant.” Cue writhing in chairs, covering eyes and ears, and LOTS of complaining. I said, “Okay, okay! That’s hard. That’s what it’s like to hold in tics.”
As they ate we played “Who can stare the longest?” They were quieter trying to concentrate. One child called out the principal for blinking. It was great. I told them, trying to hold a tic in is like trying not to blink. When you do blink again, you have to blink lots of times in a row.
I asked if anyone ever got mosquito bites. All hands shot up. I said, “Having a tic is like a mosquito bite. When your mom tells you now to scratch you can wait for a little bit, but then?” Lots of voices – “You scratch hard!”
I told them that many times TS is inherited. This is like your eye color or hair color or looks. They come from your family. I told them about my tic. I have one. I wrinkle my nose like a bunny. Usually I can control it, but when I’m relaxed or not concentrating hard it will come out. I showed them.
The principal brought up a photo of my brother who used to have a tic that I mercilessly yelled at him for. I’m not sharing his experience here as it’s not mine to discuss. We talked about how cool my brother is and how successful he is as an adult.
We talked about Tim Howard being a role model. Louis looks up to Howard as a soccer player and as a person with TS. We also played a short video of Howard talking about his personal expression through tattoos, challenges trying to do sportscasting, and his role models growing up.
Finally, Louis came to the front of the room. He told me in the morning he wanted to show the class his tics so they would see and understand. Not every child should do this. Not every child will want to. Louis did, so we went with it. There he stood with all 28 sets of eyes, plus me, the principal, and the classroom teacher watching and proceeded to name them and show them. I managed to keep it together.
We took questions. We got some randoms. We had one little girl share that her singing was a problem at school so she sings for about an hour every afternoon at home. I told her that it was brave to share and that it sounded like she found a way to help her body do what it needed to do at school.
That’s it! It took 15 minutes total. Louis was on cloud nine the rest of the day. When he got home he told us kids told him he was brave and cool for sharing.
Have you shared with your child’s class? If so, what worked/didn’t work?
Happy 10th Birthday Louis!
*Louis’ is a pseudonym to respect his privacy. Please use this name if you know us personally and choose to comment.