A newly qualified social worker describes how having Tourette’s affected his studies

The tics of Tourette’s syndrome made the anxieties of placements and assignments extra challenging. A NQSW shares his experience

By Jason Batty, a newly qualified social worker soon to start employment as a local authority children and families social worker

I never used to think of myself as academically minded. I am much more of a “hands on” person, and I felt disadvantaged when it came to studying as I have Tourette’s. Tourette syndrome (TS) is an inherited, neurological condition – the key features of it are tics, involuntary and uncontrollable sounds and movements which can become more frequent at stressful or anxious times.

Five years ago, I was working for a local authority, supporting adults with learning disabilities. During a review, I was asked if I had contemplated getting a qualification to further my career. I spent time thinking and talking about it. My dad suggested a social work degree because it would open doors to a range of opportunities, but I was unsure about embarking on a course. I am also hard of hearing and need a hearing aid to boost some frequencies. Plus, I’m a father of one so I’d have to factor in school holidays and balance spending time with my son and studying.

However, I enrolled at college on an access course and did well. My hearing was not much of an issue – reasonable adjustments such as sitting at the front of the room were made and there were only a few students in my class. My Tourette’s was suppressed most of the time and people would ask me about it in a supportive way.

When I was accepted onto a social work degree I was relieved, but only for a while. I knew the work was going to be more challenging. As the start date came closer, my Tourette’s became more frequent. I was anxious so had more tics at night which kept me awake.

My university degree was franchised to a local college. So for the first two years of my course, I was sharing facilities with students much younger than me. I would be in the library doing my research and feel eyes watching me as my tics decided to make an appearance. Sometimes I would make a grunting noise (a bit like a pig) and I would hear those teens laughing. This impacted on my confidence and I wanted to avoid the library at all costs.

My first placement was in a children and young people’s residential home. This was daunting; I was unsure how they would react to my Tourette’s. Also, I was required to use a landline phone, something I wasn’t confident about in case I couldn’t hear the other person. I requested reasonable adjustments for use of the phone and the young people were understanding. I got a huge confidence boost when I was offered a temporary job at the end of my placement as I knew my positive work with them was acknowledged.

The work involved on a social work degree is challenging and, as I said, academic study did not come easily to me. And when I was anxious about assignments being due, my Tourette’s would be more frequent. This impacted on my reading – I would have to read a piece several times as I kept losing my place. My peers were supportive and understanding ­– everyone knew about my Tourette’s and would ask me about it, but sometimes I felt isolated. I could feel my stress levels getting higher – at times when I needed it, I lost my self-belief and confidence and I thought many times about giving up.

I made it through to the third year. My marks were average and my Tourette’s was still playing games. The last year was the most difficult  lots of reading to be done, a 10,000 word case study, placement, more assignments and a portfolio to complete. But with the resilience I had built up over the past three years of studying, I knew I could get through it.

At my second placement at a substance misuse charity, I did have worries about how families would react to my Tourette’s. I was required to use the phone even more to speak to other professionals, attend child protection conferences and so on. But from my experience working with groups, how I explain Tourette’s to people and showing confidence as a student practitioner, I was able to achieve good things for the families I worked with and gain valuable experience.

September came and I got a letter from the exam board. I had passed with a first class honours. I was so happy I cried – I had really done it. I had to work twice as hard as others but I never let my Tourette’s or hearing issues get the best of me. I know that I will be a better social worker because of my experience.

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One Response to A newly qualified social worker describes how having Tourette’s affected his studies

  1. LD November 3, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I have adhd, I recently shared this with some clients and professionals as sometimes the traits can be miss understood. For instance, although I try hard not to interrupt, sometimes i still do. I explained to people i was working with that if I ever interrupted them it did not represent my lack of interest in what they were saying. When the Service manager found out she made it clear that i was not allowed to share this information and that it broke professional boundaries.

    I later spoke with the HCPC who explained they did not feel this broke any professional boundaries and if anything, my approach fulfilled my obligations to clients, specifically under; The standards of conduct, performance and ethics, number 7: You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.

    However, the LA still maintain i broke professional boundaries.