By Brian Kelly, In-Home Program Manager
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological movement disorder that causes a person to have both motor and vocal tics. To me, it is what I got made fun of for when I was a kid (my head twitches, incessant blinking, the compulsion to count things until they were even numbers). Everyone around me wondered why I did such “weird” things. Fortunately, I was able to tell kids, “I have Tourette Syndrome.” But, that didn’t stop them from making fun of me.
My parents made me talk to my elementary school classes at the beginning of each year to educate my classmates. I’m sure this was a carefully thought out strategy by them to avoid having their son get bullied. My mom hated it, but oh man, I can still see that look in my dad’s eyes when I would tell him what some kids would say. While talking to my classes helped with the teasing a little, it more importantly empowered me, as a kid, to own it and explain my Tourette Syndrome. Now, did that stop me from getting made fun of, getting into fights with said kids, having some really bad stretches of time as a child and adult? No, absolutely not. The thing it did do was show me how much the people around me cared for me and how much they were willing to support me.
I had an answer at the age of nine, but my idol didn’t have an answer until he was in his mid-20s. “Jim Eisenreich had a normal childhood and a loving family, but at age 6 he began to exhibit some strange symptoms. He had tics and jerks, and couldn’t quit blinking his eyes. His family accepted this behavior.” Sounds like a carbon copy me before I was diagnosed. The problem for Jim was that when he was 6 years old, it was 1965. People did not know much about Tourette Syndrome. Jim wasn’t able to receive the type of support I got. That didn’t stop him from going on to play college baseball at St. Cloud State then entering the draft to play in the big leagues.
As a Little Leaguer with TS, I had an instant role model in Jim. Seeing that someone with TS could play the game I loved so much, at that high of a level, was exactly what I needed. I was glued to the television any time he was playing. When he hit a homerun in the 1993 World Series I may or may not have run around the house waving my shirt around like a helicopter! Then, when he hit another homer in the 1997 World Series and went on to win a ring, I was more mature. So, I celebrated more like a teenager with a hearty fist pump. Throughout the years, I’ve been able to connect with Jim through a few letters and video chats. I even got to introduce him at his annual golf tournament when I was in college. Jim is the man!
Jim’s influence led me straight to working with people with disabilities. I got a glimpse, albeit tiny, into what people we support go through. I sat on the other end of the table at my own IEP meetings. I had special accommodations throughout high school and college. I continue to made adaptations for myself as a 31 year old man. Working at Hammer means the world to me. If I can have a fraction of the influence on the people I support that Jim had on me, then I go home a happy man. It’s all about keeping it positive!!