top of page

Mum is tearing her hair out. Oli helps create calm.


 

My name is Valeria and I’m the mum who’s been on the brink of tearing her hair out. I am the woman in the picture, and although it’s recent and staged (as it did not cross my mind to take pictures of myself when I was struggling deeply), the moral of the story is that, against all odds, I still have a good amount of hair! But I didn’t choose this headline lightly. Oli help is largely the result of my personal story.


About 4 years back, my life took an unexpected turn. Fortunately this wasn’t an accident or losing a loved one, but things did get completely out of control. It didn’t happen overnight; rather, like a snowball, things went quickly and forcefully downhill. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date when it started (let alone when it might end) but there was certainly a moment when I realised something had to change. It was January 2021 when I was called by my second child’s school and asked to go in urgently. I found him in a room with the principal and vice principal. He couldn’t speak and could barely breathe. (If only I had known even the basics of neuroscience, maybe I would have had less of an irreversible shock that day.)


I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed a child having a meltdown? I am not talking about a temper tantrum. A meltdown occurs when somebody is completely overwhelmed by what’s going on around them and their brain struggles to process the volume of information that it’s receiving. Consequently, the individual can temporarily lose control and react in extreme ways, often either explosively or by shutting down. Any parent who has experienced their child having a meltdown will relate to the fact that ‘it feels profoundly different from a tantrum’.


It’s a terribly scary situation. You don’t know what’s going on with the child and there is nothing you can do to make them feel better – in fact, whatever you do makes it worse. It’s like living through an earthquake, except the shake can last 40 minutes, not a few seconds, and it’s never a one-off. You have to come to terms with multiple shakes, apparently triggered by the most mundane things: toothpaste of the wrong colour, pasta on the wrong plate. And this can go on continuously for months and years before you understand what’s really going on. (If only I could have read minds ...)


As a parent, you become powerless.

Eventually – perhaps when you witness a meltdown for the first time, or maybe because your child really struggles at school or stops getting invited to playdates – you realise you need help. But here’s the catch: it’s a really difficult, lengthy or costly process and, when you eventually get a diagnosis, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are able to access the help you truly need, and in most cases your life doesn’t immediately become easier. What’s more, you are guaranteed to come across well-intentioned humans (doctors, family, friends, colleagues) who use unhelpful words and who fail to connect with and unleash the power of the child’s most transformative resource: their parent. (If only I could have found an effective way to cope, I would certainly have been more present. Parenting back then was far from enjoyable and made office politics seem like a joyride).

 

My son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it took over two years and two handfuls of mental-health clinicians to get a decent picture of his mind. In fact he was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD, available on a premium parenting subscription!). Comorbidities (in layman’s terms, multiple co-occurring ‘conditions’) are the norm and it’s no surprise when you think about it, because individual minds are far too complex to be reduced to a single label (that’s why I often use the shorthand ‘diverse minds’). 


There is no cure for ADHD because it’s a lifelong condition, but effective management means a better life for all.

In the meantime a lot of things happened in my life (I’ll leave those for future issues of the blog….) but my biggest lesson on this journey was to understand the power of my own change. Life became substantially better for everyone, including for my son, when I changed my own behaviour and learned to interact with him differently. I gradually experienced the power of my own actions (or, often, my inaction), my connection with him deepened, and I finally started enjoying parenting a kid with a diverse mind. 


It wasn’t an easy process. Change as an adult is hard and deeply uncomfortable. 

If meltdowns are scary, tantrums make you angry. Often the discomfort has a social dimension of shame, or of deviation from ‘expectations’. And you react accordingly. (If only a little voice could have reminded me to pause and whispered exactly what to say, so that I didn’t respond impulsively). Controlling our responses means unlearning behavioural patterns we have learned over our whole lifetime. It may mean coming to terms with the fact that we either struggled with the same challenges as our child and/or, perhaps, have coupled with someone who does, given ADHD tends to be inherited. (Science shows that we are often attracted to people not only with similar physical traits but also with similar behavioural characteristics, making the struggles endemic within the family).


The good news is that, in spite of genes, character, upbringing and environmental influences, as adults we can employ a mindset where we have the freedom to choose our actions, even with our children and even in the hardest moments. I’ve experienced it, but that sense of choice must be developed, practised and exercised. When you gain control of your destiny in this way, it’s called empowerment and, with help, this very personal and individual process can be faster. Ultimately that’s why I created Oli help. (If you’re going to watch the video at the end it will become clear that building Oli help came about far more naturally than playing with Lego...) 


Using my previous professional experience, I decided to build a tech aid, initially an app, that uses science and technology to empower parents facing similar challenges, so they can have a transformative impact on their children’s lives. The logic of the solution is very simple – to be there to help, 24/7. How? By helping them make sense of their kids’ diverse minds and motivating them to experiment with changing their own behaviour, initially in safe settings, then on the spot, suggesting exactly what to do and say when things get harder. (Yes, we also make use of AI.)


While some of this may feel somewhat artificial to start with, you will gradually experience the power of your own actions and discover that you can build a stronger relationship with your child, while finding solutions to everyday challenges. I’d like to be clear: there’s no magic involved, rather there’s a lot of hard work to be done on the part of parents, at least initially. Oli help isn’t a cure and is not intended to replace clinicians or any other caregivers, nor is it a substitute for necessary medical treatments that may be required. 


It’s just a tech aid called Oli, programmed to help parents and caregivers unleash the power they already have within themselves.

Clinically what we are developing is an innovative and potentially integrative approach to behavioural parent training, which is already a longstanding pillar of multimodal treatment for ADHD. Using the growing understanding of ADHD, our ambition is to build a proven digital therapy. In the meantime, however, we’re wholly grounded in the reality of families that live and breathe ADHD in all of its shades, doing everything we can to help them see that their childrens’ future is open to infinite possibilities.


Are you ready to meet Oli? Now you know I imagined him to help create hope, not just calm.


Valeria


 

I produced this video in 2022 when I first imagined a virtual Oli that could help me in my everyday life. I would like to thank Julia Woollams for her creative input, Sara Luzzati for her photography and Victoria and Alessandra for providing their consent to utilise their photos.

 

136 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page