Tourette's Assistive Classroom Technology

Tourette Syndrome can pose unique challenges in the classroom.
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Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes repetitive, involuntary tics such as vocalizations and movements. These tics can come in the form of simple movements like shrugging, head jerking, blinking or throat clearing, or they may be more complex and potentially-harmful tics that can include hopping, twisting, punching oneself, blurting inappropriate words or copying what others are saying. For many, the symptoms of Tourette’s start to show up between the ages of 3 and 9, and these symptoms combined with commonly-associated problems like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or obsessive behavior can make everyday school tasks like writing or speaking aloud in class more difficult (anxiety often makes tics worse, as well). If you or someone you know is a student living with Tourette Syndrome, there are many forms of assistive technology that can create a smoother classroom experience. Be sure to work with your school’s administration and special education program to create a technology plan that is school-approved and ideal for your needs.

1 Recording Devices Can Help Students Retain Information

Kids with Tourette’s often cannot take notes the way other students can. Their tics may prevent them from writing clearly or quickly, which means they could fall behind. To address this problem, a sound or video recorder can be very helpful. Simple digital recorders are small enough to sit unobtrusively on a desk while class goes on and students can bring them home after school. By recording a lecture instead of trying to write it down, you can access the information later by listening to the audio files or watching the video instead of trying to make do with handwritten notes. This can also be useful for students who cannot manage to attend class on a given day, as audio and video content can be streamed over the Internet to a computer in the student’s home.

2 Pre-Recording Class Presentations on Video Can Reduce Stress

Many students are asked to speak during class in order to give presentations or deliver speeches. For children with Tourette’s, however, their vocal tics can make public speaking tough, and the anxiety can make the tics even worse. To make oral presentations without the stress, students with Tourette’s can make a video of themselves giving their presentation at home, where anxiety is minimal, and then the student can show the video in class when presentation time comes. Video recording technology ranges from the very simple and affordable to the complex and expensive, but as long as the resulting format is compatible with the technology used at the school to show video to the class you should be able to share your presentation without Tourette’s getting in the way.

3 Word Processors and Speech-to-Text Software Are Useful for Writing Tasks

Just as the tics that accompany Tourette’s can make it hard for students to take notes, they can also interfere with a student’s ability to write papers, essays and other assignments. In many cases, a word processor on a computer can help by allowing you to type instead of write. Even typing can be difficult to manage effectively, however, when tics are problematic. Speech-to-text software can be extremely valuable in these situations; you simply say aloud what you want to type and the software creates a document on the computer that contains whatever you say. Dragon NaturallySpeaking by Nuance is the most recognized speech-to-text software on the market (link in Resources).

4 Reader Software Makes Reading Easier for Students with Visual Tics

For some students with Tourette’s, reading is difficult because visual tics make it hard to focus on the text. For these students, assistive technology comes in the form of software designed to read written content aloud while you listen to it. It doesn’t work for hardback or paperback books, of course, but for digital files of text, reader software is an extremely helpful tool. You can find many types of text-to-speech reader programs available today, including NaturalReader, IVONA Reader and Voice Dream Reader (links in Resources).

5 Productivity and Organization Tools for Students with Tourette Syndrome

Staying organized and productive can be a challenge for those with Tourette’s. To deal with this potential hurdle, you can use digital organizers, timers, calendars and spreadsheets to keep track of what you need to do and when. Calculators and grid paper or spreadsheets can also help students stay on track when doing complicated math problems, as columns help with math organization in those with Tourette’s. In addition, online document sharing and instant messaging can help you work on assignments and projects over the Internet where you can collaborate with your classmates or teacher. With modern organizational technology, the options available to help you stay on top of your classwork (and your everyday life) are plentiful.

Erica Kasper has been a professional writer and editor since 1999. Based in Jacksonville, Fla., she has written and edited educational, marketing and web copy for nonprofit organizations, technology companies and online marketing firms. She has a Bachelor's degree in journalism (honors) and psychology from Washington and Lee University.