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Autism: Male v Female statistics…correct or not?

A very dear friend of mine sent me the link to this article about autistic girls over the weekend and very interesting it is too!

It set me thinking, with several autistic girls I have to say that it was definitely easier to spot in Osborn (my son) than it was in the girls.  I remember Lorie’s teacher in year 2 telling me once that she had observed Lorie watching how everyone in the class reacted and then copying them a split second later.  She felt it was absolutely brilliant and enabled Lorie to look as though she fitted in a lot better than the actual reality.  It was brilliant, but it didn’t make her life any easier, it was just exhausting trying to be like everyone else and she has always struggled with depression and anxiety.

The same goes for the other girls, the problem is that they are so adept at mimicking what is regarded as being ‘normal’, moreover, they feel that they have to appear to be like the majority in order to be accepted.  This is the crux of the matter and this needs to change…urgently.

The general consensus seems to be that there are more autistic males than females but I would respectfully disagree.  I run an autism support group and in my experience over the years (and in meeting many autistic people outside of the group), is that the split is very definitely pretty much 50/50.

Recently, some new research suggesting that autism could be diagnosed through a urine and blood sample was headline news, I was asked to comment on local radio and was shocked to hear the doctor tell us that they had only tested a sample group of 38 autistic children and a control group of 31 non autistic children.  This is a ridiculously small test sample to be absolutely definitive (although when I mentioned this fact to the doctor live on air she insisted that this was a large study in research terms!), I was even more shocked though to hear that the gender split in the subjects tested was 29 male and 9 female in the autistic group and 23 male and 8 female in the non autistic group!

I was gobsmacked!  How can professionals, learned people with huge numbers of letters after their name be so narrow sighted?  The generally perceived gender bias towards males being more likely to be autistic is because of the ability of girls to mask their autism so effectively.  If the people in charge of the research believe in the myth that far more boys than girls are on the spectrum I don’t feel there’s much hope for future research to be more accurate until our professionals become more enlightened.

I hope it won’t take many more years before autistic girls gain the recognition they need, and therefore, the same support that boys tend to get at an earlier age.  It really can’t happen soon enough.

Film ‘Kingdom of Us’:


TED Talk:

‘Kingdom of Us’: What all the children take away with them….answered!

My number one son (only son actually!),  travelled to Spain and Italy for a few weeks at the end of last year and I couldn’t wait for his return both times.  His departure aways leaves a gaping hole in the house that we all feel deeply and everyone wanders around asking “When is Osborn back?”.

In the film, ‘Kingdom of Us’, I’m in Pippa’s bedroom whilst she’s away in hospital talking to Nikita about what Pippa takes with her when she’s away, she’s the ‘Spark’ in the house.  She’s the person who throws curved balls at you that create sparks, sometimes not so good but mostly in the most wondrous way.

Unfortunately, when Nikita asks me what she takes away, because she’d put me on the spot, I really couldn’t think!  Since the release of the film I’ve had more time to consider all of the children and what part they play in the family unit, so here’s a run down of each of them:-

Jamie: Jamie is where it all started 26 years ago, she was the baby I believed I could never bear, having been told I was infertile for 17 years by every doctor I’d seen.  She was a huge surprise, and not at the best time in my life, but I eventually reasoned that she was just meant to be.  Ever since, she has represented all that is great about my life and when she isn’t around we all miss her passion for everything.  Without the happy accident that was Jamie, my life would be so much the poorer.

Kacie: Kacie is the drive of the family, she forges ahead with whatever she believes in without faltering and carries everyone along with her.  She’s like the irresistible force that never gives up, no matter how hard everything gets, and she’s had her fair share of troubles recently but she’s still fighting back.

Lorie: Lorie is the determination of the family, she works so hard to accomplish the things she believes in, very often against all the odds.  She will do whatever it takes to achieve her goal, inspiring everyone else to keep going as well.

Mirie: Mirie is the heart of the family, she quietly goes about her business making sure everyone is ok and being careful she never leaves anyone on a bad note in case anything happens to them.  She cares deeply about the less fortunate, be they human or animal and is constantly looking for ways to enrich people’s lives.

Nikita: Nikita is the fun of the family, she makes us laugh so much with her incredibly sharp and very accurate wit.  Her comedic talent is astounding and an absolute joy to witness, there would be a lot less laughter in the house without her.

Osborn: Osborn is the mind of the family, he’s the one who asks the questions that no-one else would even think to ask in the first place!  He questions everything and searches constantly for the reason behind everything, keeping us all on our toes at all times.  Osborn and I can talk for hours about anything and everything!

Pippa: Pippa, as I’ve already said, is the spark of the family, you never know what’s coming next but it’s normally something very funny and unexpected.  Her wit is razor-sharp and is delivered with pinpoint accuracy, very often hitting the parts other people can’t reach!


The whole team at the premiere of ‘Kingdom of Us’!

Todd: Spaghetti Agency…The best stuff happens outside your comfort zone!

Life is a funny thing, it throws crap at us all constantly but it also offers us endless opportunities if we’re only open enough to see them and accept the challenge.

A very, very dear friend of mine, Todd from Spaghetti Agency  put the following on Facebook a couple of mornings ago and it got me thinking, he often does that:-

The best stuff happens outside of your comfort zone…

Incredibly simple but so, so powerful!  We all have a comfort zone and I’m not talking about your favourite chair in front of the TV,  I’m talking about the comfort zone inside your head!

Your brain and thought patterns are where everything starts and we all spend every second of every day making decisions, whether they be big ones or tiny ones.  We’re all very conscious of the big ones, but the little ones, like whether to have coffee or hot chocolate, fly under our radar without even realising that we’re making a decision.

So, does it matter about all these tiny little things?  Well, yes!  Every little thought we have adds up to creating our character and attitude to life.  Should I have a skinny latte with no sugar or a hot chocolate laden with cream and marshmallows?  Does it matter?  Yes, it does.

I had a heart attack a few months ago and I’m having to watch everything now, my exercise levels, my diet, my sleep patterns, my stress levels etc..  Choosing the hot chocolate over the skinny latte is now, for me, a potentially life changing decision if I keep making the same (wrong!) one, even though I would much rather be in a comfort zone and have the hot chocolate!

Sometimes being outside your comfort zone is simply making the best little decision rather than the one that comforts you, being outside your comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean jumping out of an airplane!

And although there were people disagreeing with Todd, I think they may have been missing the point.  If we never, ever venture outside of whatever feels comfortable to us then we’ll never learn what we’re really capable of.  Therefore, we may miss out on things that, actually, we really enjoy and would rather be doing instead of whatever you feel comfortable doing.  True of food, hobbies, adventures, holidays, work, and anything else you care to think of, we need to try different things!  Besides, that new thing that scared you will soon become a new comfort zone when you get used to it, time to push a little further out!

So maybe, don’t see your comfort zone as only being the big things in life, pushing yourself applies to EVERYTHING, and you never know, you might discover something that you may never have found if you didn’t make yourself a little bit uncomfortable!





New Year Resolutions

I’ve never been big on New Year Resolutions myself, I always feel that if you can achieve a new goal from the first of January then you should be able to do it anytime.  Therefore, I’ve always shunned the notion of making resolutions that happen to start on the 1st day of the year in favour of doing whatever it is I want to change when the time feels right.





This approach has worked fairly well for me over the years but 2016 has brought its own very specific and major challenges, so I’m feeling a little different this year.  This does feel like the right time to make certain changes and I’ve started some of them already (a little rebellion going on here I think?!), 2017 just HAS to be a better year all round!  So, here I am, sitting in my local Costa, making a flow chart of the things I need to change and how I’m going to go about making those changes.

I’m also setting goals which is something else I haven’t done for a while, life has been so unpredictable and changeable that goals have felt like an unachievable dream, better not to set them in the first place has become my way of thinking.  This, of course, is totally wrong of me, if you don’t know where you’re going how on earth are you going to get there?  Most of us don’t set off in a car without knowing what our destination is, why should we treat our lives differently?  I’m hauling myself up by the bootstraps on that one and giving myself a firm rap on the knuckles for being so stupid!

And I’m not just making professional goals, I’m setting goals for my health as well.  I’ve neglected myself over the last couple of years, which again, has been rather stupid of me, how can I care for anyone else if I’m not well enough?  Self care is not a selfish act, it’s a necessity, without our health we have nothing and the general aches and pains and lack of energy I’m currently experiencing has got to end, I have far too much to accomplish to allow my general health and wellbeing to hold me back.  I have a lot of changes to make in that area and I’m jolly well going to make them, and stick to them.

Work wise I know what I am going to achieve every day/week, health wise I know what I’m going to do in order to feel well enough to do them, and, in terms of personal development, I need to get back to some old, good habits that have fallen by the wayside.  It’s time for me to give myself a huge kick up the backside and I guess I’m pretty screwed as I’m making it all public!

Maybe this is a good time of year to review our lives and consider making any necessary changes, maybe I’ve been narrow-minded in not, at the very least, looking at my life from a different perspective at this time of year and considering what could be better in the coming year?  Well, this year I’m doing it, I will share update reports every so often to let everyone know how I’m doing and what has worked and what hasn’t, maybe sharing my successes and failures will help someone else?


Podcasts…..and why taking action changes lives

Doing something new…..

I’ve never been much into Podcasts, I tend to prefer videos,  but when I was asked if I would do one I was more than happy to oblige, in fact, I felt extremely honoured as it’s a new set of Podcasts being created by my good friend Ryan Hildebrandt, the founder of TEDx Leamington Spa.  I hold him in high esteem as someone who makes things happen so I guess it’s fitting that the series of Podcasts he’s created are called ‘The Maker’s Journey’.



We’e still on our journey but watch this space for some exciting things coming up soon!

Why Podcasts?

And, of course, the inevitable has happened and I’m now an avid Podcast listener!  It’s so convenient to listen on phone on the train and or whilst waiting for something (in hospital with my daughter recently is a very good example!), much easier and less battery life than videos.  And you can learn so much on so many different subjects from some fascinating people, all with just a phone and a set of earphones!

Small actions change lives……

My Podcast traces my journey back from when I took our local paper to tribunal over the piece they wrote about my husband’s inquest, they sensationalised the story and revealed information that my (then) very young children hadn’t needed to know at such a young age.  I was disgusted as it caused my children a huge amount of stress and unhappiness when their peers started being so cruel about the way their father had taken his life.  It was too late to help my family but I hoped they would think again when reporting on anything similar and consider the family’s feelings.  I won and received a retraction in a later issue of the newspaper.  The point that Ryan wanted to make was that I took action instead of just having a moan on Facebook, which would have been the easy option, but wouldn’t have helped anyone.

As a result I was asked to do more press pieces which led to radio interviews which led to   writing a book which led to TV interviews, making a film, doing a TED talk and having a small voice which some people listen to in my quest to change people’s perceptions when it comes to mental health, Autism and Neurodivergence.

My dream is still to change the world and in some very small ways I have changed some lives, I just want to do so much more!  Small things can make a huge differences do listen to my Podcast at ‘The Maker’s Journey’ and please do leave a comment, good or bad, feedback is essential if we’re to grow!



Autism, is it stubbornness or something else?

Recently heard in ‘The Mad Shanks Residence’ was an argument between Mirie and Nikita. Had one of them stolen the other ones clothes again?  No, nothing as life threatening as that, this was about Mirie having her feet up on the coffee table (yes, we allow that in our house under the right circumstances) and Nikita wanting to get through to the sitting room.


The moment of truth!…..bless them!

Let me explain, our house is very ‘open plan’ and Nikita could have walked through the kitchen, the long way round(!) in order to access the sitting room but as Mirie was comfortable and had her feet up, Nikita had the choice to step over or take the other route.  Much in the same way, Mirie had the choice to remove her feet and let Nikita through or refuse to move and make her walk round or step over.  Impasse!

So, was this stroppiness or something else?  I listened with amusement at the pair of them arguing their point and neither of them budging, it went on for about 5 minutes.  Why was I amused?  Because I was well aware that whilst stubbornness was playing a small role in this scenario,  the main issue was what was going on in their heads.  With both of them being on the autism spectrum, they both had their own ‘plays’ running in their heads and the knowledge of how their brains work makes life simpler for those on the outside looking in.

Did I intervene?  No, I knew it was the same impossible situation I’ve encountered endlessly with all of them as they’ve grown up.  You see, they have a picture in their brain which must be adhered to (hence the lack of ability to manage change) and neither of them had the ability to change this picture.  This was a tiny issue but imagine the agony for someone with this particular brain wiring when something major changes?

It’s not always stubbornness, sometimes we have to understand the way a person ticks in order to not arrive at the wrong conclusion.  Food for thought maybe?



It’s all about the Weather (well what else. the sun’s come out!)

So, the sun has come out, too late for the bank holiday of those who celebrate such things but what a wonderful sight to behold.  Is it just me or has the winter been relentlessly grey?  I remember there being only a handful of those glorious ‘freezing but sunny’ days that would normally lure us out of winter hibernation and into our warm but excruciatingly unflattering ‘cold weather walking gear’.

I’m a summer lover, not a sun worshipper, just a summer lover.  I love the freedom the summer brings, being able to sit and work outside, the long summer evenings, wearing fewer clothes with lighter fabrics,  the summer feels, well, just lighter in all ways.


Now, most people would like to be around the soothing greenery of the countryside in this weather but I’m happy to report that I’m off to London for two days on business!  I love London in the summer, I still regard London as being my real home anyway and my favourite time when I lived in the Capital was always the summer, it hasn’t changed.

There’s something about the bustle of the city when it’s hot that makes me excited to be there, maybe it’s the way the sun reflects off the buildings and cars, what I do know is that my visits there are far too rare these days.

So I wish you all ‘Happy Sunshine’ wherever you are and make the most of it, we don’t know how many we’ll get!


Influencing young minds

Last night saw me speaking at the Coventry and Warwickshire County Presentations and Awards Ceremony for Young Enterprise, a huge responsibility that I didn’t take lightly!


Young minds can be influenced so easily for good or bad so saying the right things was imperative, for the first time in my speaking career I was actually nervous!  And what a fantastic group of people they were, all so enthusiastic and motivated and what a journey they had all been on.  In their excellent presentations they told the story of how they conceived their business ideas and took their companies all the way through to making a profit.  What was particularly inspiring was that so many of the companies had taken the opportunity to create products that were environmentally friendly with a lot of them up-cycling and turning potential landfill into useful and beautiful items.

Judging from my experiences last night, the future is bright!  Our younger generations have taken on board the mistakes of generations past and are determined to make our world a better place, and, winner or not, every single one of them has already stepped out of the crowd to say ‘I’m different’, I’ll have a go and have then gone on to work extremely hard to make something happen.  They’re all winners in my eyes.

So I hope some of the things I said last night will help them through their life’s journey, maybe something I said will inspire some of them to go and make a real difference, and personally, I believe our planet is in safe hands with the upcoming generations, they know so much more than we ever did, but, more importantly, they really do care.

Thank you to all ‘Young Enterprisers’ everywhere, you inspired me last night and for that I am eternally grateful.

Where did the future go?

Where did the future go?

Once so bright and clear

now, shrouded only with fear

Where did the future go?

Once full of dreams

Now nothingness as far as my mind can see

Where did the future go?

The excitement of things to come

The pleasure of building lives

Oh, where did the future go?

My mind muffled and bound

My body weighed down with a thousand stones

Oh please, where did the future go?

My love of life and family

My dreams to build a better world

So sad, the future has gone

But maybe, in time, the future will return

Maybe in time the tunnel will open up

Maybe in time, life will be fun

Maybe in time, my passion will return, the weight of the stones lifted

But….for now…ride it they say

Get through each day any way you can

Keep the faith and believe in your dreams

Stay with us and we’ll carry you through

Know you’ll rise again and be you once more…….


Little things can make a huge difference

Two years ago I sat at my computer and made a decision, I was aware that all of the Autism support groups run by the local NHS had extremely strict criteria for attendance and there were countless families waiting for a diagnosis, or just wondering if someone they knew may be on the spectrum and they had nowhere to go to get help and guidance.

Having got the t-shirt on this one I knew how lonely and daunting the whole process of getting any assistance was, so, with a simple Facebook page and room booked in a local restaurant, Autism One on One was born.

Vikie Shanks - Carer of the Year

My Beautiful children, their amazing support with Autism One on One has made it what it is.  Thank you so much to all of you xxxxxxx

That first night, myself and the children sat in the room wondering if anyone would come, half an hour later we were shocked to see that the room was bursting with people and it was apparent that we would need more space very quickly.  I found another venue where we could meet without cost to our members (I was adamant that the group would have to be free in order for no-one to be excluded from attending), and, two years later, it’s a thriving community both online and at the meetings.

Firm friendships have been established, people feel supported, advice is available and once a month our group can meet, free from the disapproving glances of strangers, people connect with like-minded people and feel safe, happy and understood.

Last night one of our young members performed a magic act in order to gain some practice for his show at Autism’s Got Talent, he was brilliant and the reception he received from everyone was rapturous!  Without the group he would have had nowhere to practice his short piece and we all wish him the best of luck in the show in May.

Simple things can make a huge difference and the payback is seeing people feeling supported and giving hope where there was none before.  If you have expertise in a particular area or feel passionately about something, just think, could you do something similar and make lives better?  I bet you could!