This year my second oldest is in grade 2 and has been struggling with impulsivity and focus more than usual. He has TSplus so I decided it was time to talk to his peers at school. A few of the parents were aware because I had talked about this openly while doing the coffee chat during birthday parties, etc. but the kids did not know. It has only been this past summer that I started to explain TS to my son so he had not had the opportunity to ever talk about it to his peers or anyone. TS is apart of who we are as a family so when people visit us it's rarely a topic of discussion... so I was venturing down unfamiliar territory with this age group because my oldest was 9 when diagnosed and his friends were 9-10 when inserviced.
I am trained to conduct in-service sessions but was a little concerned because I had not yet in-serviced a group this young (6-7 yr olds). So on went my thinking cap and out came my strategy of using analogies as I so often have to fall back on when training people at work.
I had asked the teacher to let me know when she felt this presentation would fit into the topics they were covering in their curriculum so his teacher had shared they were talking about friendships and making new friends. This was the "perfect time" so the teachers of both grade two classes co-ordinated their schedules so that I could have all my sons peers and we met in the library. I knew I had to cover the things the kids had seen this year as well as the things that were a challenge last year in grade one. The topics had to be tics, ADHD, OCD, storms and falling asleep in class....
I introduced myself and they all knew who's mom I was and I told them I had TS and that we had selected September as TS awareness month and that I thought it was a great way to tell them about TS because they were learning about friends and people's differences. I started with a short video our chapter has in it's library called "you've got a friend" and it was 9 minutes. The video talked about genetics and the kids shared all kinds of personal things about their families (cancer, diabetis, etc) that they knew came from genetics. I told them about my oldest son having TS and about his famous head/kneck tic he's had for over 2 years. I asked who else might have TS and my son jumped to his feet as proud as could be and said "I got Tourette's too and my tic is a jumping tic" Whew! he was out and all by himself!!
Then out came my bag of tricks
I talked to them about tics relating it back to sneezing and blinking and even went as far as I often do with the older kids with the example of holding back "bodily gas"... they got the point. I told them no blinking and they didn't last 10 secs. The I went into ADHD with comparing it to cleaning their room and finding a toy they hadn't seen in a while and getting distracted but they could get back to cleaning their room with a quick reminder. I shared that's how life is for most with ADHD but that they can't always get re-focused and that they sometimes even forget things they knew yesterday. Then I used the analogy of getting their favorite song stuck in their head for the OCD... and that with a new idea or song they can move on but for people with TS who have OCD, they cannot because they get stuck... The kids seemed to be so interested and they were getting the point. Then I needed to ensure they would get my point around storms so I did not use any words like storm, rage, anger, etc... I stuck with talking about people having stress (positive like on Christmas eve and negative like a suspenseful movie) and how everyone has different amounts in their lives and having so much in their cup that it can spill over. So stay with me while I share the activity because for me this was the best part.
I stuck 3 clear plastic cups to a tray and used green marker to mark a line and labeled it 1/4 on the first cup and filled to the line with clear water. The second cup I labeled 1/2 with a blue marker and filled to that line with clear water and then the third cup was labeled full with a red marker and filled to the ridge just below the top edge of the cup. I then had 3 more cups the same size all with 1/2 cup of red (food coloring)water. I had my son come up to assist. Then I went on to explain that the first cup was the person who was always at school laughing having fun and nothing ever bothered them, the second was the person at school who had a little bit more going on with home and other things we may never know about, and the last was the person with TS who wakes up most morning with their cup full. I asked why they thought it was full and they came up with great answers based on what we talked about. I shared with them that the red water was going to be 1/2 cup of stress that everyone was going to face that day at school. When I asked what happens to some people when they are upset or frustrated, they told me they turn red... hence the red water, some said "I got it".
I asked my son to add the cup of stress to the first cup and he added a little at a time... he was so hesitant... I said pour it all in and he did. the kids said there's lots of room and I said you are right, that's why they are happy all the time. Then my son added to the next cup and the water was right to the top and the kids were all anticipating it to spill but it didn't and they said "it didn't spill!"... I said not but their cup is getting pretty close. Then the final cup. My son didn't want to add the stress. the kids said "it can't take that stress, it's going to spill over" I said, sorry boys and girls this cup is part of the class and it has to take the 1/2 cup too... they were on their feet watching as mu son slowly poured the water in and it spilled all over the tray making a huge mess. Their faces were priceless. So once I had them settled I asked this question, "if you had someone in your class with TS and their cup was spilling over, what would you see them doing?" They said "cry, scream, run out of the room, be angry, looked mad" so I asked, "what would you do?" They said "leave him alone"... out of the mouth of babes came the best possible answer. They told me they would help my son if he needed it and they would ignore his tics and leave him alone if his cup spilled over. :D
I reminded them that some days my son may fall asleep due to being so tired etc, and thank them for listening and being such good friends.
We finished with the story that was shared by one of our BB members ie "My Friend Ben" ( written for a little boy in grade 2 with TS) which I had my son's teacher read. I sent them all home with a Q and A, a letter to their parents from me about being in the class that day and why, and a green TS awareness braclet...
In 45 minutes I had 32 little kids aware of TS and ready to help, in their own little way, my son and I had my son beaming with excitement and telling everyone who mattered to him that he has TS... that was a success and will hopefully secure his comfort level with this disorder as he starts to internalize and understand his symptoms.