By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Maria Kelly noticed that there was something different about her son, Nolan, when he was just a toddler.
“He lost all his language skills at 18 months,” said Maria Kelly, who is an early development/ kindergarten teacher in Lyndhurst. “He also would rock and hit the back of his head, but wouldn’t say anything. We talked with his pediatrician and did early intervention with Nolan.”
It was first believed that Nolan Kelly had tactile perception problems, that his sense organs were just being overloaded. But when Nolan was five and started developing tics in his neck, eyes and shoulders, Maria Kelly realized what was happening.
Nolan was suffering from Tourette syndrome.
According to Wikipedia, Tourette syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder that is identified through multiple physical tics and perhaps even a vocal tic. The tics tend to come and go and can be suppressed temporarily, but need to be monitored and treated with medication.
There are some instances where a Tourette syndrome sufferer would exclaim derogatory and obscene remarks uncontrollably (called coprolalia), but only a handful of people with Tourette’s has that infliction.
Tourette syndrome sufferers are becoming more accepted, simply through education and awareness. For instance, United States national soccer goalkeeper Tim Howard, a former Kearny resident, is a Tourette syndrome sufferer who makes the most of his infliction and has become a spokesman for those with Tourette’s. Of course, Maria Kelly was naturally concerned.
“I wasn’t worried about his mental capabilities, because he was always super smart,” Maria Kelly said. “I worried about him socially and how other people would react to him.”
Nolan Kelly’s strain of Tourette syndrome has caused facial, head and neck tics. His vocal tic sounds like he’s grunting or clearing his throat. He does not have coprolalia.
Nolan never thought much about his disorder.
“I guess I really never paid much attention to it and it never really bothered me,” Nolan Kelly said. “I guess it was not until sixth grade, when people would look at me and ask me about it, just asking if I was fine. I knew I had Tourette, but I didn’t research it. My mom and dad (Pete, a bank executive) helped me through it. We went to a neurologist who told us more about it.”
Nolan has never really thought of his illness as an infliction.
“In school, sometimes it makes it hard to focus and it takes me longer to do assignments,” Nolan said. “But I’m pretty much a normal kid.”
Maria Kelly wanted her eldest son to be like her other children, son Evan and daughter Mackenzie.
“We didn’t want to treat him any differently,” Maria Kelly said. “I think we’re very fortunate to have known since he was in kindergarten.”
Baseball has always been a major part of Nolan’s life since he was a youngster.
“I guess I started with tee ball when I was six years old,” Nolan Kelly said. “I also played other sports, like basketball and hockey. When I’m playing baseball, the tics kind of go away.”
When Nolan reached Lyndhurst High School, he expressed interest in playing baseball and pitching for the Golden Bears.
“My wife taught Nolan in Franklin School and she knew Nolan and Maria,” said Lyndhurst head baseball coach and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo. “He played freshman baseball last year and our freshman coach Patrick Auteri spoke highly of Nolan. I wondered whether he could handle it.”
Servideo hardly ever realized that Kelly had an infliction.
“Sometimes you hear him clear his throat in the dugout, but once he gets on the mound, he stops,” Servideo said. “He creates more focus on the mound and concentrates when the target is set.”
Kelly throws all three of his pitches – fastball, curveball and change-up – for strikes. The 16-year-old Kelly has already made his mark with the Lyndhurst varsity.
“He could be one of our better pitchers next year,” said Servideo of Kelly, who will be a junior. “We need to get him in the weight room and get him working on weight training activity. He’s a hard worker and you can see some of the qualities he has. It’s tremendous. I know other students admire him for what he’s been through.”
Nolan is a high honors student at Lyndhurst.
“We feel very proud of him,” Maria Kelly said. “I think he’s amazing. What he’s been able to accomplish is amazing. I know it can’t be easy for him.
He’s lucky to have friends who are supportive of him and accepting to him, because I still worry about him.” “I have great friends,” Nolan Kelly said. “Once I tell people about it, they’re all accepting of it.”
Maryann Mule, who is a case manager for student services at Lyndhurst, has been working with Kelly to help with anything he might need.
“She’s been there for me 100%,” Nolan Kelly said.
Servideo said that there are other members of the Lyndhurst varsity who look after Kelly.
“The older kids have taken Nolan under their wing,” Servideo said. “No one can say anything bad about him, because the older kids won’t allow it.”
“I never have a problem with anyone,” Nolan said. “The other kids are really nice to me. They are accepting and good natured about it.”
Now, Kelly feels like he’s become an advocate for Tourette syndrome.
“I like talking to people about it, educating people about Tourette’s,” Nolan said. “People can live with issues like mine and live normal lives. They can succeed.”
Nolan Kelly now monitors his Tourette syndrome with medication, taking three pills twice a day.
“If I didn’t take the pills, the tics could get worse,” Nolan Kelly said. “The only downside is that I sometimes get tired and feel like falling asleep. But it does cut down on my tics and the frequency of them.”
In the meantime, Kelly hopes that he can open up some eyes about Tourette syndrome.
“I hope that I can open the door and inspire others who have it,” Kelly said. “They can overcome it like I have.”