Andrea Bilbow admits that she lives in a state of "overwhelm-ness," but that didn't stop her from founding the United Kingdom's first and largest ADHD support organization, for which she was recently awarded the prestigious Officer of the Order of the British Empire medal by the Queen of England.
"I'm now an Officer of the British Empire," she says, displaying the elegant medal affixed to a fringed red bow. The award, part of the Queen's annual Birthday Honors, was presented to her last November, at Buckingham Palace, to salute Bilbow's "services to people with attention deficit and their families."
Bilbow's journey started more than 20 years ago, when her two sons were diagnosed with ADHD. Like many parents with ADHD children, Andrea eventually recognized her own ADHD symptoms, but she was frustrated by the lack of support in the UK.
"There was absolutely no information anywhere about attention deficit, and I didn't know a soul to talk with," she says. "Finally, I found a very small support group out in the countryside."
The group filmed a five-minute television clip that highlighted Bilbow and her son as studies of ADHD. The clip brought publicity and inquiries about attention deficit. "I was the only person in London who knew much about ADD, so I started a support group in my living room."
Not content to rely on local experts, Bilbow traveled the world to meet with ADHD professionals, forging long-lasting relationships. When she attended her first CHADD conference, in Washington, D.C., in 1995, she was inspired to organize a similar conference in the UK.
Bilbow pulled together her first international ADHD conference, in 1996, in one month, drawing on a pool of international experts. "We sent out 1,000 fliers, and 100 parents and 20 professionals accepted," she says. The next year, the acceptance numbers reversed, as more professionals sought out accurate information about ADHD treatment. Along the way, Bilbow's efforts led to her founding a charity known as ADD Information and Support Service, ADDISS.
Today, ADDISS sponsors three-day international conferences and one-day workshops and training sessions for professionals and parents. The national group offers training for local support groups, and fields thousands of questions about ADHD each year.
Though she is delighted that there is more awareness about ADHD than there was in the early 1990s, Bilbow believes that the award will further the cause.
"This isn't an award for me," she says. "It's an award for ADHD from the highest level. The Queen of England does acknowledge ADHD."