Managing the Holiday Time with Tourette Syndrome

As this time of year approaches, and the shopping, time spent with family, and the extra days off of school or work, it is an exciting time of the year. However, research has shown that this might be a particularly stressful time for both children and adults with Tourette Syndrome(TS) 1.    Some of the reasons for that might include:

  • Lack of structure
  • Stress of social situations
  • Change in diet
  • Lack of physical activity due to travel or weather limitations
  • Lack of sleep
  • The list is endless…

Although this time is fun, and can seemingly bring comfort to many, it can be a period of chaos for others. It is important to understand be mindful of your loved ones’ stress symptoms and implement strategies to prevent stress during the holiday season. Some strategies include:

  • Structure: When possible, provide a structured routine. Children and adults with TS tend to prefer familiar patterns, and when having to change out of this, it can create large stress. If unable to maintain a regular routine, try the following:
    • Give plenty of warnings when transitioning throughout tasks throughout the day.
    • Utilize a visual schedule when possible.
    • Ensure your loved one gets the appropriate amount of sleep. Keep the bed time and wake time consistent. This will make transition back to school and work easier.
  • Employ personal calming strategies as often as possible. Do not be shy with utilizing stress management strategies during the holidays. Some things to be aware of:
    • Be aware of your own stress. It is important to understand that your child or loved one with TS can mimic your own body language. If you demonstrate stress, they will most likely also resemble that stress. Implementing your own stress management strategies and staying calm through the holidays is important.
    • Allow your loved one to have time for periods of “escape” when you notice any signs of stress. In periods of large social gatherings or new places, it is easy to get overwhelmed. By allowing 5-10 minutes of an “escape” in which your loved one can recharge and implement stress management strategies can be particularly helpful.
    • Allow use of comfort items when available. Do not be afraid to bring any calming toys, fidgets, blankets, etc. that might be particularly helpful when traveling.
      • Ex) If loud sounds are bothersome to your loved one, bring ear plugs or headphones to avoid overstimulation.
  • Continue consistency with behavioral strategies utilized at home. It is important for this routine to continue. Expect the same behaviors (with maybe some holiday leniency), but having accountability during this time period.
    • If needed, explore use of reward charts for visual motivation.
  • Promote physical activity. With the weather limiting outdoor activity and travel restrictions, it is important to remember that children need large amounts of physical activity daily. If physical activity is not provided consistently, then an increase in adverse behaviors can be expected throughout the day. Strategies to increase physical activity indoors include:
    • Family games inside
    • Use of heavy work
    • Building a fort
    • Helping with chores

The holiday time can be a time of family fun and cheer. It is important that all family members get the opportunity to enjoy.

If you would like more information regarding strategies for home, please contact your local Center of Excellence or Occupational Therapist.




1) Conelea, C.A. & Woods, D.W. (2008) The influence of contextual factors on tic expression in Tourette’s syndrome: a review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 65(5), 487-496. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.04.010.



About the Author


Heather Simpson, OTR/L

Heather Simpson graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science with a minor in Early Education from the University of Florida in 2007. Following…

Read all articles by Heather Simpson, OTR/L