Blog written by mother of seven, Vikie Shanks, an advocate for better awareness of autism and mental health. These are her views which she is sharing with ITV Central.
With seven children, six on the autistic spectrum, the seventh with severe dyslexia and the youngest two also with cerebral palsy, life was never going to be simple!
Rewarding, yes; straightforward, no. All of this hands-on experience has equipped me with an armoury of tools that I use. I now write books, give talks, and offer mentoring to help and educate as many people as possible. It’s my life’s mission!
My beautiful children have a range of diverse challenges, from autism, demand avoidance, dyslexia, depression, anxiety, and cerebral palsy, to name but a few. Along with these challenges come sensory issues, rigid behaviour patterns, compulsive twirling, flapping etc…and significant struggles with school and social interactions.
Following my husband’s suicide 10 years ago I was also responsible for keeping house, looking after the children and running our corporate entertainment business. I was also applying for statements of educational needs and attending up to 18 medical/educational appointments every week.
I’m often asked how I did it. The truthful answer is that I slept very little and my actions were those of a runaway train. I didn’t dare stop to sit down or relax for fear that I would never be able to get up again!
So I developed a strategy of never looking too far ahead in my diary. Focusing on what was on the horizon would have just been too daunting.
With no family to rely on and only a handful of close friends, every day was a logistical nightmare. And now here we are, with the three youngest children having attended specialist schools and the others having been through mainstream education.
As a family we have an unbreakable bond. We’ve come through the worst and come out of the other end of the tunnel stronger than ever, and we’re now pursuing our dreams in a way that was unthinkable 10 years ago.
A person with autism is expected to live in a world that was designed for ‘neurotypical’ people so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that, statistically, they are more prone to experiencing co-existing mental health issues.
The world expects a lot from them. There are so many simple things that could be done to make their lives less stressful, and all that’s needed to accomplish that is better understanding, awareness, and tolerance of their differences.
If your child is on the autism spectrum, please talk about it with them. Help them to understand that their autism doesn’t define them.
Autism can be compared to computers, Windows v Linux, same machine; different operating systems, neither one better than the other, it’s just about understanding how each one works.