George Will

     COPPELL, Texas -- Even in what passes for repose, your basic 11-year-old boy resembles the former Yugoslavia -- a unity of sorts, but with fidgeting and jostling elements. Andrew Nesbitt is like that, only more so, because he has Tourette syndrome.

     He also has something to teach us about the power of a little information and a lot of determination. And about how life can illuminate philosophy, which is supposed to do the illuminating.

     He is 79 pounds of shortstop and relief pitcher -- a closer, no less, which is a high-stress vocation. Stress often triggers Tourette symptoms. Hitting a thrown ball with a round bat is hard enough, and so is throwing the ball over a 17-inch wide plate with the game on the line. Hard enough, even if you do not have an inherited neurological disorder that causes recurrent physical and phonic tics.

     The physical tics can include involuntary muscle spasms -- blinking, clapping, hopping and the more or less violent twitching of shoulders and flailing of limbs. The vocalizations are usually grunts, hisses, barks and other meaningless sounds. Rarely, and not in Andrew's case, there is the compulsive utterance of obscenities.

     At the benighted school he attended last year, teachers could not -- would not -- understand that he did not have a mischievous penchant for bad behavior. They frequently banished him from the classroom to sit in the hall.

     When he was younger, his parents had to hold his thrashing head so he could eat. Playing soccer, he sometimes bruised his behind by kicking himself with backward leg spasms. This year, he says, Mrs. Marill Myers, his math and homeroom teacher, ``asks me if it's a tic.'' She gives him a jump rope to use to subdue unmanageable energy. Or pauses to briefly rub his back. Not complicated, really.

     He was 5, standing on a swimming pool diving board, when his mother first saw him jerking his head and shrugging his shoulders oddly. He is bright as a new dime -- at 10 months he had a 50-word vocabulary -- but his gross and fine motor problems became so bad that in fourth grade hip spasms would throw him out of his desk chair.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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