Show & Tell: Brett Smith, ADHD & Tourtette Syndrome Parent | Still Playing School

Show & Tell: Brett Smith, ADHD & Tourtette Syndrome Parent

By Devany LeDrew | Labels:
Today I welcome Brett Smith.  Brett has a 12 year old son, Tyler, who has ADHD & Tourtette Syndrome.  She is making strides in her community to put an end to bullying. 


Brett, can you tell our readers how we know each other?

I can't remember which grade we had class together, but I know we've known each other since elementary school.

I actually have a clear memory of this!  We rode the bus together in elementary school.  You taught me some of those hand clapping chants and I thought you were soooo cool!  I still do think you're cool!  What is the most important thing we should know about you?

I think the most important thing people should know is that I am a mother and my family is my world. I'm sure there are other things I could say that would teach you about me or tell you what kind of person I am, but honestly, being a mom is what defines me most. It's who I am. It's what I am. From the moment I held my son for the first time, I knew that I would do anything in the world to ensure he was safe, happy, healthy, and loved and that is what I've done for the last 12 years.

Oh, my, I remember when you were pregnant with him.  I can't believe it's been that long, but he's turned into such an outstanding young man!  Who do you share your life with?

I share my life with my wonderful husband, Justin, who is also my best friend and my son, Tyler. We also have 3 cats (Tigger, Betsy, and Teddy), a puggle (Odie), and Tyler's pet bearded dragon (Frankie). However, I have a large extended family that means the world to me. I'm also lucky to have my grandma and step dad who live by me so we see each other all the time and Tyler gets to spend lots of time with them.

You inspire me because of how you handle your son's diagnoses. Can you talk a bit about this?

I guess first I should try to slightly explain what Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourette Syndrome (TS) is. Most people are aware of ADHD and ADD, which is a neurobehavioral disorder (deals with how the brain affects emotions and behavior). There are 3 main symptoms of ADHD/ADD: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. An example of each would be: Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task (inattention),have trouble sitting still (hyperactivity), and act without regard for consequences (impulsivity). Tourette Syndrome is less known, not only by the public but by the medical world as well. 

Although doctors are not sure what causes it and therefore have no cure yet, they still define it as a neuropsychiatric disorder that is noted by physical (motor) tics and verbal tics. Examples of Tyler’s motor tics are arm/hand jerking, head bobbing, and shoulder shrugging. His verbal tics are usually humming, throat clearing, or the raising of his voice while speaking. 

As for how I handle Tyler’s diagnosis, I guess I’d say that I’m not. It’s more like I’ve taken the situation we were given and changed my lifestyle to the point where it’s just my normal everyday life now. I really don’t even notice his tics anymore unless it’s something new that stands out and his ADHD behaviors are just him now. 

In the beginning it was a different story of course, because we had to do so much research on each disorder, learning how it will affect Tyler and how we should react to his behaviors. He is on medication, but it does not fix it all. He’s still very impulsive and inattentive. Lectures must be short
and sweet because otherwise you’ll lose him halfway through. Notes and lists of what need to be donehave been hung through the house to remind him of his morning and night routines. I work every yearwith his teachers to make sure that Tyler gets all of his notes because he writes much slower (due to TS)and also to make sure they help keep him on task and do all they can to help him succeed. We spend a lot more time than average doing homework because he needs breaks so it’s not overwhelming. 

Nighttime routines are extremely important, especially during the school year when he has to get a
good night sleep. If we don’t do things in order and don’t say our good nights in our own special way, it will actually keep him from falling asleep until we do say them. He can’t have anything with red dyebecause it makes both disorders worse and depending on how much he eats or drinks, it can literally affect him for a day or two. You also have to learn how to tell the difference between the actions and behaviors that are caused by ADHD/TS from your normal “bad behavior” because you don’t want to punish him for things that are out of his control. 

The most important thing I stress to him is that at no point should he be embarrassed by either disorder. They are a part of him and what helps make him into the person that he is today. And
although I may be slightly biased, he really is the most amazing child. He’s smart, funny, sarcastic (getsthat from his mom and dad haha), loving, and outgoing. He loves to help people and learn new things.  He enjoys playing sports and riding his quad, dirt bike, and go-kart.

All I can do is continue to be his biggest support system. I am there for him when he’s feeling bad about himself. I am there to cheer him up after a bad day at school when the kids are bullying him. I give up my evenings and any housework to spend the time needed to help him with his schoolwork. I always let him know how much I love him and when he complains about it not being fair that his life is harder than the other kids, I remind him that although his life may seem tough, his success in the end will be even more important because of all the hard work he puts in.


Wow, Brett, you speak of that so well.  You've but a lot of helpful supports in place for him.  It's obvious that you're his biggest advocate!  What was his diagnosis like in the beginning? How have you gotten to where you are now?

Tyler was diagnosed with ADHD the summer before Kindergarten at the age of 6. He was very impulsive, his attention span was almost nonexistent, he couldn’t finish any activity before running off to the next, and he was very hyper. He was having a hard time learning in school and eventually we took him to the doctor when we realized it was more than just an “immaturity” problem as we and his teachers originally thought. 

It took us about a year to find the right medication for him. I’ll never forget the day when he came home from school and said, “Mom! This stuff works great. I could pay attention in class and I even had a test and did really good. I’m better!”

Unfortunately, it was about a month later that Tyler was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as well. After spending a day at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh having long discussions and testing, in the end he was officially diagnosed with both ADHD and TS. It’s actually quite common to have other
disorders or conditions with ADHD, such as a learning disability or OCD and for Tyler that other disorder is TS. 

It’s been over 6 years since it all began and although in some ways we have seen Tyler mature and
learn to slowly control some of his behaviors, for the most part it’s just as prevalent as it was at day one. 

While Tyler takes medication for both, there is really no medication that can fully suppress or cure TS. Soin Tyler’s case, he can only take enough medication to help each disorder partially because if we fully suppress his ADHD, his TS is so bad that he has a hard time functioning and vice versa with suppressing his TS to a higher extent. We have our good days and we have our bad. We have our days full of laughter and our days full of tears. But in the end, he is doing better because as he gets older I see him slowly start to accept himself and not let it bring him down. 

Ideally, how do you see his diagnosis in 5 years? 10 years? How do you plan to accomplish this?

I think the next five years have the potential to be the hardest. It’s going to be his teenage years and there are so many things that could happen. For instance, I worry that the bullying will escalate as
he gets older and I would hate to see how that will affect him and his self-esteem. We all know how
hard it can be to be a teenager and when you add in the fact that others see you as “different,” it just
makes you an easier target. 

I also know that teenagers with ADHD are at higher risk for smoking, drinking and doing drugs.  Their impulsiveness can lead to getting into trouble because they act without thinking of consequences.

The only thing I can do is continue to teach him the values and morals that will enable him to make the right decisions when it comes to peer pressure and having to choose between doing right or wrong. I know the journey we have ahead of us will be trying at times but he has two very caring parents, as well as the rest of his family, who will be there to help him through those times and lead him in the right direction. That’s all any parent can do.

When I think ahead 10yrs, I can only look forward to seeing all the success Tyler will be accomplishing with his life. By then he will be 22, and if the doctors are correct, his tics should be
completely gone. For some unknown reason, when ADHD and TS is combined, the Tourette’s tends to fade away by the end of their teenage years. Seeing that the Tourette’s is what affects him more
personally (mainly because he is teased more for his tics), I think it will be a big weight off his shoulders. 

He may have to continue dealing with his ADHD for his whole life, but just because it won’t
always be easy, it is far from saying he won’t be able to do whatever he wants with his life. At this point, Tyler wants to be a doctor who helps kids with cancer and if that is what he still wants to do in the future, then he will. There are a lot of people who think that because someone has ADHD, they won’t accomplish much because of their struggles with attention and so forth. But you know what I’d say to that? I’d say “Justin Timberlake, Jim Carey, Michael Phelps, Ty Pennington, Terry Bradshaw, and Walt Disney. “ All of these men have ADHD and look at the success they achieved. 

What inspires you about Tyler and others struggling with ADHD and TS?

I think what most inspires me is how they continue on with their life and stay strong. Everyone
has their moments in life where they get down on themselves, no matter whether they have a disorder
or not. But watching Tyler push through those times not only makes me proud, but inspires me too. I
have met several children with ADHD and I can honestly say that I haven’t seen any who let it get in their way. I have also seen many documentaries and have done research on TS and I can say the same thing. 

You watch people like James Durbin from American Idol (one of Tyler’s idols) and hear him talk about his Tourette’s. You can see that he never let it hold him back from chasing his dreams and it shows how strong and determined they all are. It may be a fight some days but they always push through.
What are your other passions?

One of my biggest passions is reading. Any down time I have is usually spent curled up with my NOOK, getting lost in a story. I’m betting my husband probably thinks I’m addicted to my NOOK and he’s probably right. 

What are your challenges?

I think my biggest challenge is figuring out what the best thing for my son is sometimes. It’s hard listening to doctors tell me what he should take while I don’t always agree. We went through many trials at the beginning, but about 2 years ago his doctor suggested a different medication when his current prescriptions didn’t seem to be working anymore. He had a terrible reaction to it and ended up in the hospital while his whole body went stiff and contorted. I think it was one of the scariest days of my life watching that happen. Since then, I’ve been even more reluctant to try new things. It comes down to figuring out what is worse: the chance of another bad side effect occurring, adding another pill to take, or letting him continue the way he is when there’s the potential to make things easier if it works. 

Who else inspires you and why?

I think my mom has always been my biggest inspiration. She was such an amazing person. She could find the bright side to any situation, she could have everyone laughing with the stories she told, and she had such a soft spot for animals. No wonder I have so many. She was such a great influence on me and how I look at life. She was also the reason for my finishing college as a full-time student. With her help I was able to continue my education without worrying about who would watch my son. He was always in great hands. I think the greatest compliment I’ve ever received was, “You’re just like your mother.”


What advice can you give our readers about ADHD and TS?

My advice to readers would be to go out and learn more about ADHD and Tourette Syndrome. Actually, learn about every disorder you can. Learn the facts, gain the knowledge, and help spread awareness to those around you. I have seen how ignorance can lead to hate, bullying, alienation, and more. All it takes is a little bit of understanding to stop that from happening. When Ty was in 3rd grade, I went into his classroom to talk to the kids about ADHD and TS. When I finished, I had several children come up to me and apologize for making fun of him. Knowledge is power. Just remember that. 

I also advise all you parents out there to please talk to your children about bullying. I have become very adamant about the subject over the last few years. It’s true that bullying has been happening for as long as we can remember, but if you watch the news or read the newspaper, you can see how badly it has escalated over time. Kids can’t even escape bullying by going home after school or on the weekend. With the help of the internet and social networking, with cell phones and texts, bullying can follow them anywhere they go and the effects are absolutely debilitating. More and more children are taking their lives because of the bullying they endure in school. I personally have had to watch my son cry after school because of the names he was called. I have watched his personality literally change during the school year because of being pushed and punched in the halls. 

I am actually working on several fundraisers at the moment to help bring awareness to the problem and hopefully help our school district at the same time. The first fundraiser will be held during October, which is Anti-Bully month. Instead of the regular 5Ks that are used for donations, I am holding an event called Make a Move to End Bullying. For every hour you spend during the month “making a move,” you would donate $5.00. Your move could be running, walking, dancing, biking, or anything else you can think of. Of course, any donation amount will be welcome, whether you actually participate or not, but why not make yourself healthy while donating to a great cause? All donations will be given to a great organization called Teach Anti-Bullying Inc. They are the only one on the east coast (out of five in the entire country), but they are basically the only ones that travel all over to educate students, teachers, parents, and the communities about bullying and how to make it stop. If you are interested in participating in this fundraiser, you can go to Make a Move to End Bullying.

I also plan to work with Tyler’s school to bring Teach Anti-Bullying Inc. to speak with the kids and parents. I have two fundraisers in mind to help bring awareness to the students as well as raise money to help bring the speakers here. Lastly, I already got it passed by the principal so we will be allowed to participate in Unity Day on October 9th day of unity. Everyone will be asked to wear orange and show a day of unity.   If you are interested in your business or school district participating, you can go to www.pacer.org and find flyers for the event, as well as other projects students can do in their school to help bring awareness to bullying prevention.

Where can readers find out more?

I am on Facebook if anyone is interested in talking more about ADHD or TS. I can also say there are some great sites to help with any of the information Imentioned. These include: www.additudemag.com, www.tsa-usa.org, www.pacer.org, www.teachantibullying.com, or www.chadd.org.

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