By: Angelika H. Claussen and Rebecca H. Bitsko, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Child Development Studies Team
May 15-June 15 is Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month. This year’s theme is Everyone Can Play a Role! Learn the facts about tics and Tourette syndrome (TS), and how you can play a role to stop bullying of children with TS.
Bullying doesn’t just happen to the smallest kid in the class. Children who bully others target those who seem to be less powerful or not as strong. Children who bully others also often target children who seem ’different.’ Children with TS are often seen as ‘different.’
TS is a condition of the nervous system that causes people to have tics. Tics are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly. People who have tics cannot stop their body from doing these things. Having tics is a little bit like having hiccups. Even though you might not want to hiccup, your body does it anyway. Sometimes people can stop themselves from doing a certain tic for a while, but it’s hard. Eventually the person has to do the tic.
Because of the tics, children with TS are sometimes seen as disruptive or rude. A small number of children with TS also have the urge to use swear words or say inappropriate things, even if they don’t want to. These tics can be upsetting to the children with TS and everyone around them.
Children who have tics are more likely to be bullied than children without tics, and those with more severe tics are at greater risk for being bullied. Among children with tics, bullying has been associated with loneliness and anxiety.
But bullying doesn’t have to happen. Many people around children with TS can do something to help protect them from bullying. Not sure what to do? Here are some ways everyone can play a role to prevent bullying:
What friends can do:
Friends and classmates who understand that tics are not on purpose and that children with TS are just like other children can help them feel accepted and can help stop bullying. But they need to know what to do when they witness bullying. Learn about how to be more than a bystander for any type of bullying, and watch a video Stand Up for Tourette Syndrome about how peers can support children with TS.
What education professionals can do:
Education professionals can learn about tic disorders so that they can respond supportively and help children reach their full potential. Read more about resources for education and training on TS. Bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school and can negatively impact their ability to learn. The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. There are a number of things school staff can do to make schools safer and prevent bullying. Learn more about prevention at school here.
What families can do:
Families can play a role by advocating for their children. TS is recognized as a disability in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Disability harassment is discrimination that violates section 504 and its regulations, and bullying is a type of harassment. Find more information about federal laws related to bullying on StopBullying.gov and help your protect your child.
What children with TS can do:
Children with TS can learn how to be ambassadors who speak about TS to their peers at school, sports leagues, scout troops, camps, youth groups, and after school programs. The purpose of the Ambassador program is to teach what TS is like and to get rid of the myths about TS so that children with TS become more accepted. Learn more about the Tourette Association’s Youth Ambassador Program.
Together we can all play a role to stop bullying of children with TS.