1. Archive


The holes in the walls of Joan Brewster's Hudson home are testament to how out of control things got with her 9-year-old son, Tristan Smith.

He has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which was diagnosed after he was ejected from prekindergarten for being a hellion.

"That's when I first admitted that something was wrong," says Ms. Brewster, 41.

She initially had a hard time accepting that Tristan had a problem _ a reaction many parents share. She also was dealing with the guilt she had heaped on herself for having to leave him with others while she worked as a baker at Winn-Dixie.

Mostly, her life has been wrapped up in her son, but not always in ways that were healthy for either of them. She knows that now, because she has gotten counseling and attended parenting workshops sponsored by the school district.

"I babied him a lot ... Being the only child, and with his father and me being broken up, I kept him close to me," she says. "I did everything for him. I didn't let him do anything. If he wanted a glass of milk, I'd get up and get it for him. If he wanted to do something, we'd do it. Everything was what he wanted."

Those days are over.

She has learned to take charge. She also has worked closely with Northwest Elementary School, Tristan's therapists and anyone else she could find who was available to help a family on a limited income.

A 13-year employee, she says her Winn-Dixie bosses, John Durham and April Fox, are patient when school officials call to report Tristan's problems or to summon her to school.

The school and her church have directed her to all manner of resources, though she has done plenty of her own legwork.

"I've had to keep digging," she says.

Her own school experiences weren't great: She got through on C's. But she has made herself a regular presence at Northwest, where principal Renee Sedlack has encouraged her.

The women haven't always seen eye to eye, but Mrs. Sedlack says Ms. Brewster "knows that I love her son and so we both have the same objective."

Children with the hyperactivity disorder often have problems with school, although they may be gifted. The disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and is treatable with medication. Often, its symptoms diminish markedly or go away as children mature.

Children with the disorder fidget, have short attention spans and may have violent outbursts. Tristan had such outbursts until a few months ago when doctors found the proper mix of medication.

Lately, he has improved. He knows there are consequences for misbehavior.

When he bullied the family puppy, his mom found it a new home. When he smashed walls in his room, she stripped it bare, leaving only the mattress. She returned his possessions as his behavior improved.

The punishment he hates more than anything is writing "I will not ..." sentences over and over, so that's what he is told to do when he misbehaves at school or home.

At school, "Tristan is doing much better," Mrs. Sedlack says.

A third-grader, Tristan started receiving traditional A-B-C letter grades this year. His grades have been average, but they are starting to improve.

Ms. Brewster knows that a lot of other parents are having a rough time. She says that the key to turning things around is to stop feeling guilty.

"Don't blame yourselves," she says.

But parents also have to be willing to change and to take control.

"You can learn," Ms. Brewster says. "You can't expect your child to change if you won't change."