The under-diagnosis of girls and women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or autism spectrum disorder...
Founder of The Functional Family, Sharon Collon, knows the challenges of living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) all too well. She shares her experiences with TALi.
With a husband and three sons all diagnosed with ADHD, Sharon Collon’s intimate relationship with ADHD has seen her develop a series of resources and support networks for parents, carers and guardians of those with the condition. She wanted to reach out to others and help “create home environments that are functional and joyful by streamlining the day-to-day tasks with innovative systems and routines.”
It all began for Sharon when she met her husband many years ago. Regardless of his own personal struggles with the disorder, their romance is a journey she happily describes as “a pretty awesome one.” However, after marrying and deciding to start a family, the symptoms and behaviours with which Sharon and her husband were familiar started to reveal themselves in their first-born child, Xavier.
“I remember sitting in the office of the paediatrician when he was diagnosed,” says Sharon. “I knew it was coming because he's exactly like my husband.”
While there was no shortage of strategies for the child with ADHD, Sharon couldn’t help but notice a gap in what was offered to her — practical, everyday support for parents was thin on the ground.
“We went through the mill of every special diet, neurofeedback, psychologists, occupational therapy, and all those wonderful things really helped, but they also placed more strain on our family,” she explains. “Even though they were helping Xavier, our home life was rubbish. It was chaotic and all the specialists were overloading us with things to do."
"We didn't have any clear strategies in place on how to make this work for us as a family,” she continues. There was no joy — we were just getting things done — and I really wanted more time for fun. I wanted to feel connection, and I wanted Xavier to have that beautiful joy with us as well. So I started researching and looking into what could be done to help our family as a whole.”
Sharon with her husband and their three sons. © Hipster Mum
In documenting her research — and welcoming another two sons, also with ADHD, into the family in the process — Sharon soon had a sizable pool of helpful information at her fingertips. With more and more mothers, fathers and other carers coming to her desperate for some of her home-life ‘secret sauce’, she eventually bundled her information together as a resource for helping others in a similar position. This resource has evolved into an online program called ‘ADHD and Families’.
"We've really focused on trying to help the bits that we can," says Sharon. “In the program, we have a part that is all about stopping predictable problems. If you know that your two kids have a problem — like when they brush their teeth next to each other — don't do that every day; stagger it out. If they cannot stand next to each other and brush their teeth without fighting, you shouldn’t continue persisting with it and expecting a different result."
"Likewise, if they have trouble with transitions such as leaving the house, then you’ve got to give them the strategies to make those times easier, like doing countdowns. We show them that having those routines is really helpful. We want to make sure that we're not banging our heads against a brick wall in terms of running into the same problems day in and day out. They’re the things that will drive you nuts and suck all your energy.”
Sharon is careful to point out that her resources are no substitute for professional care. Practical support and tips for parents to make home life easier and create time for a more meaningful connection with their kids is the name of the game for her. As she emphasises, "I'm not a child psychologist. I'm a mum who lives with ADHD around me everyday, and I’ve found some things that work.”
Along with the practical information that The Functional Family provides, the program has given rise to something Sharon did not originally anticipate: a tight-knit community.
“It's everything that I wish I'd had 10 years ago when my son first got his diagnosis,” she admits. “We've created beautiful online communities and Facebook groups that are open to everyone, where people can post questions. We've got this gorgeous, supportive tribe that is there to share in people's experiences. We do podcasts and blogs and things like that, giving free tips and tricks. I'm really about giving people practical tools."
This notion of care and support is at the heart of The Functional Family. “The key is to look after that primary caregiver,” she says passionately. “We've got to support the mother or the father, if they're the primary caregiver; whoever is the person that's taking the brunt of looking after these beautiful kids. We have to support that person because they make magic happen."
“If we can make mum — and I say that because it’s predominantly mums — feel like she's kicking goals, like her life is more manageable, then she enjoys it a little bit more. You can see that she gives more eye contact to the child, she's much more animated in her praise. She has more time to do all the homework that all the different therapists are asking her to do with her child. We want to give her back some time and enjoyment. And that is the bit that I feel like we're missing.”
"Our kids can be spectacular. They might not always do great at school under conventional testing but their brains are brilliant. My husband, for example, can build a truck with no manual, nothing. He just does it on instinct. My eldest could ride a motorbike with no training wheels at the age of two. They've just got to find their thing and run with it. We're here to help them find the thing that they're passionate about, the thing that brings them joy. Once they've got their thing, generally they're pretty good with life, you know?"
Sharon’s motivation is clear: she doesn’t want anyone else to be sitting in a paediatrician’s office, like she did 12 years ago now, feeling lost and not knowing what to do.
As she concludes, “I want to give them all the information, so they can use that information and take the bits that they need to make their lives sustainable and happy."
For more information about Sharon and the excellent resources she provides for those caring for kids with ADHD, visit The Functional Family.
To learn more about TALi’s evidence-based, digital attention testing and training tools for early childhood, visit TALi Health — we create happier kids!
Header image: © Hipster Mum