S’porean of the Year nominee: She started ADHD community after daughter diagnosed with condition

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Moonlake Lee started Unlocking ADHD in 2021 after her daughter was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. To date, more than 3,000 people with the condition have signed up for the organisation's events.

SINGAPORE - In only a year since an organisation here began reaching out to those impacted by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), more than 3,000 people have signed up for its events.

Now, founder Moonlake Lee wants to have Unlocking ADHD registered as a charity and make it an institution of public character, which would allow it to secure tax-deductible receipts for donors.

This is part of efforts to reach as many people as possible.

“I want it to be the go-to place, the first place you think of when you’ve been diagnosed or suspect you have ADHD, where you can find the community, information and tools,” she said.

Ms Lee, who started Unlocking ADHD in 2021 after her elder daughter had the condition diagnosed three years earlier, is one of the nominees for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2022 award.

The award, presented in conjunction with UBS, recognises inspiring Singaporeans who make an impact on society.

ADHD is a common neuro-developmental disorder that affects about 5 per cent of the global population, and 4.9 per cent of Singaporean primary schoolchildren.

Attaining charity status would require having systems in place for accountability, and Ms Lee is tackling the issue of governance head-on, even though it “goes against her natural impatience and wiring” – she had ADHD diagnosed at age 50, a year after her daughter was diagnosed in 2018.

To get there, the organisation hopes to get funding from the Government and corporates to expand and pay its full-time team.

The 53-year-old is one of five full-time staff running the organisation but she is not being paid.

Some 200 volunteers – about 160 of whom have ADHD or have family with the condition – have helped them manage support groups for more than 2,000 people, as well as create content and run events.

“I’ve never been so tired before,” Ms Lee said. “I tend to take on too much and get overwhelmed.”

She added that she has the hyperactive form of ADHD, while her daughter Alisa Cheng’s ADHD manifests as an inattentive version.

Ms Lee suspected something was wrong when her daughter was 10, but a developmental assessment was costly and the parents decided they did not want to label her.

But after her diagnosis and having started on medication at age 15, Ms Cheng went from failing most subjects in Secondary 3 to acing her A levels. Now 19, she is now studying dentistry in England.

Regretting not helping her daughter’s condition be diagnosed earlier, Ms Lee started Unlocking ADHD with her own and her dentist husband’s savings.

She said there was little in the way of local information and faces then, only overseas resources.

Many people with ADHD were given diagnoses of co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety, which did not address the underlying issues, she added.

Public awareness has since improved, she said, with many notable Singaporean doctors and lawyers with ADHD coming forward to share about how the condition helped them in their careers and how they managed the challenges that came with it.

Ms Lee, who has worked as a lawyer, investor and marketer, is an advocate herself.

Ms Lee started Unlocking ADHD with her own and her dentist husband’s savings. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Beyond awareness, Ms Lee wants the organisation to support people with ADHD, such as by linking them up with therapy and coaching.

The organisation has helped a mother of an 11-year-old boy with ADHD to find a support group.

Housewife Wong Yi Hui, 46, said: “It is really hard to talk to anyone who could truly empathise that your child isn’t being naughty, rude, lazy, or has poor attitude.”

“It can feel very overwhelming, very exhausting, very isolating.”

She said getting to know a group of parents through Unlocking ADHD was affirming.

“Who can truly understand and share the joy of a day of homework completed without a struggle? Of a teacher commenting that the child sat through class and was on task today. Of a month of no meltdowns at all? Only a fellow parent of a child with ADHD will get it. I think this sense of community reduces a lot of anxiety for a parent.”

Joining the support group also helped a grant executive officer to have ADHD diagnosed and find the courage to quit a job he did not like, and get a new one as an animal-assisted therapist.

Said Mr Brian Yeo, 34: “It makes me feel nice that finally I don’t feel like it has to be on the most miraculous grounds that I can connect with others (in the organisation); it can be on simple terms.”

Ms Lee encourages those who suspect they have ADHD to get tested.

“Rather than not getting diagnosed and having people label you lazy or stupid, isn’t it better to choose your own labels and get the help you need?”

The award recipient will get:

  • $20,000 in cash for each person or group
  • A five-night stay at any of Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ properties globally, up to a maximum of three sets of accommodation for the group
  • One pair of Singapore Airlines business class tickets for each individual, up to a maximum of three pairs for the group
  • A three-night stay at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Finalists will receive:

  • $5,000 cash for each person or group
  • A three-night stay at one of Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ global properties, up to a maximum of three sets for each group
  • One pair of Singapore Airlines economy class tickets for each individual, up to a maximum of three pairs for each group of finalists

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