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Entrepreneurship + Parenting + Neurodivergence
In conversation with Rachelle Denton.

Rachelle Denton talks to Ann Storr about her experience of parenting, freelancing and navigating neurodivergence as part of Autism Awareness month.

April is Autism Awareness Month - I’m Ann Storr, ASD ADHD mum of two ND teenage girls, entrepreneur, serial starter of projects and magazine obsessive. To highlight the stories of entrepreneurs with Neurodiversity, I'll be publishing some profiles of Leapers who have been kind enough to share their stories. 

Recently I caught up with Rachelle Denton - co-founder of The Storm Collective and Senior Content Strategist for Global Communications at LEGO - to hear her account of self-employment, parenting and being diagnosed with ADHD.

Rachelle: "Before Covid, I would book meetings all across London - I’d book one for an hour, and then I’d walk for an hour to my next one. I was always quick marching from one thing to another. 

Once we were all working from home I found time very hard to manage. There didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, and yet everyone else online seemed to be taking up new hobbies with the ‘free time’ they now had. 

I threw all my energy at my work and all my energy at my son and I was quite depleted and not the best version of myself for anyone. 

At the same time my husband and I had been working with our son’s school to see what neurodivergence he might have. Part of that exploration included looking through our family history. We began to examine ourselves too - I kept saying to my husband “I don’t think he has ADHD because this is just how life is”. That’s when I realised, hearing myself saying this over and over and thought, “oh f*ck, this isn’t how life is supposed to be”.

So, a few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD.

I’ve learned the hard way that just because I’m throwing all my energy into work and family doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. 

I’ve been self-employed since my son was born because I felt it gave me flexibility, to accept the work I wanted and the hours I needed. We found that while our son has some challenges in the school environment, he really isn’t suited to homeschooling. His teachers are brilliant, they completely understood that some things weren’t going to work, and having their permission to skip some of the tasks was important. 

We’ve been working with our son to create different solutions to engage him with education - he doesn’t like writing, so we’ve created alternatives, like finger painting with shaving cream or writing in the snow or in the sand, making letters out of Play-Doh. 

I feel like I’ve got a lot of time back with him because of lockdown, time I wasn’t expecting to get. Like, he heard ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ for the first time and it sparked his imagination, so we had our own teddy bear’s picnic! Those are the moments I will always treasure.

The biggest hole I’ve seen in the last year is the ability to address the social and emotional needs of children in this alternate version of society. My son is an only child, so he has had months long stretches of not being able to see his peers. It feels like a whole year of his social skills and development have been lost.

These years are critical. He should be working out his complicated feelings with peers, not with adults. He exchanges short videos with his friends which works better than live video calls, but he’s not practising those complex exchanges - he’s not going to work through a fight over toys on zoom. 

I’ve learned the hard way that just because I’m throwing all my energy into work and family doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. 

When you’re self employed there are so many moving parts - the company, the clients, the staff and the deliverables. Like this morning - we were supposed to deliver on Friday, now the client can’t make it. So we do a big diary shuffle, move all the deliverables, all the people working on the project, catch them up with the news. Coordinating all these elements in a business takes its toll. 

If the pandemic hadn’t happened I would probably still just be going on the way I had been because I hadn't seen the juggle quite so clearly before. It turns out that I can’t be there for my business, my pipeline and my family. For me, the solution is a new role, one that is really exciting, but it does mean leaving the freelance lifestyle behind. I’m choosing to cut down on the amount of things pulling for my attention, to create some much needed focus. 

That’s part of the freelancing struggle - you’re always going to be second guessing the decision that you made “should I be working right now?” versus “should I be with the kids?”. The only way to quieten that is to tweak your schedule a little, but also chose to live with the decision that you’ve made. Your child isn’t going to get value out of their time with you if your head’s still in work, and your projects aren't going to get the best out of you if your mind is in the other room with your kid. Be cognizant of your choices, because you can’t be in two places at once. 

Recognising that you are finite is really beneficial to finding a freelancing life that suits you and your family. 

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