Kingdom of Us

After nearly four years of filming and production, the moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here!  It’s with a tiny bit of apprehension and a huge amount of excitement that we look forward to the World Premiere at the British Film Festival on the 7th October of our film about our journey over the last few years since Paul’s suicide.


Excitement because it’s been SUCH a long time in the making, and a tiny bit of apprehension because it’s such an intensely personal and real film which shows us ‘warts and all’.

We insisted from the very beginning that the film be totally real, no staging, no pretending to be something we’re not or vice versa, and that’s what it is…just us…as we are in real life.

We’re all so happy with the finished film and for that we have to thank the amazing Lucy Cohen (Director), not only a brilliant Director but an awesome person as well, we all love her dearly and really hope that the film may help in some way, if it touches one person it will have been worth every moment of the last four years.

Film trailer…

 

Tickets on sale here from 14/9/17

An Open Letter to Autism Sceptics…

This is an open letter to everyone who has heard my TED talk, seen me on TV, read about me in the press, or is familiar with my views on Autism.

I have, what are regarded by some, to be fairly unusual views on the subject of autism.

I make no apology for this!

I’ve lived with autism all my life (mother and two brothers on the spectrum and now numerous children on the spectrum), and have observed and analysed as well as learning from my experiences with them.  I haven’t followed ‘conventional’ views on how to bring up a child on the spectrum.

As with all things in life, ‘I did it my way’!

And how did ‘my way’ pan out?  Pretty good actually!  This summer holiday has seen most of them taking breaks (alone) in Europe.

Nikita flew to Madrid on her own, a long way from just a few years ago when the train to her new college was too much to ask of her.

Lorie will have been in Spain for a month with a family who speak very little English and, whilst she’s struggled, she’s consistently managed her anxiety well enough to enable her to stay.

Osborn is currently in Belgium with the Explorers and having a great time.

Kacie has been to Amsterdam on her own, flying for the first time in her life… on her own.

Would I have predicted this when they were young?  Absolutely no way!

People meet them now and assume they’ve always been able to cope – but that’s a very long way from the truth.

Nikita is autistic and also has learning difficulties. Along with that, her receptive language score is very low and she struggles to understand what people are saying to her.  And yet, here she is, defying everyone who told me she would need residential care by now, living the best life she can and, whilst having to cope with huge anxiety and communication difficulties.

Whenever I appear in the press, on TV etc… I’m always greeted with cries of ‘But, what about the non-verbal ones, the ones who will NEVER lead anything resembling a ‘normal’ life?”.

To them my answer is, “Why have you written your child off so readily?”.

Several of my children shouldn’t be leading ‘normal’ lives, and yet, here they are, confounding the experts’ predictions that they would never leave home, attend university or manage their lives without me.

In the same way that the ‘experts’ told Osborn and Pippa that they would NEVER be able to ride a bike because of their Cerebral Palsy… guess what?  Osborn is currently cycling around Belgium! Yes, he experiences pain, and yes, it’s a lot harder for him than his companions, but he’s never let small stuff like that hold him back!

I agree that there are people on the spectrum who struggle a lot more than most – but I still don’t believe they should be written off as not being able to have a good life.

May I point you in the direction of Carly Fleischmann?  Carly is totally non-verbal, has no control over her physical movements and struggles with the simplest of tasks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a beautiful person inside fighting to escape her limitations.

Carly’s father wrote a book called ‘Carly’s Voice‘. I read it years ago and it’s an inspirational story of parents who never gave up on their child.  To make life even more frustrating for Carly, she was a twin and watched her ‘neurotypical’ sister going to parties, playing dress up, learning to dance etc… all the things it turns out Carly was desperate to do herself.

How do we know that Carly wanted to do all these things when she’s completely non-verbal?  Her carers discovered one day that Carly could type, painfully slowly, with one finger that she had virtually no control over, but she was able to communicate for the first time in her life!  What she told the world was that she was very well aware of her autism and the huge limitations it placed upon her but, actually, her brain was working extremely well thank you!

How many other ‘severely’ autistic people are in the same situation as Carly a few years ago?  desperately wanting to tell the world that they’re in there, they just can’t get out?

How frustrating must that be, similar to ‘locked in syndrome’ but with a body that can move, they just have no control over it?

So many people in the world are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, Stephen Hawking being one of them.  He shouldn’t be a Theoretical Physicist, he should be rotting in some institution somewhere if we all take the view that our lives revolve around our bodies ability to function perfectly.

So, what did I do differently with my kids?  I pushed them, I believed in them, I constantly made them do things they hated me for and pushed them out of their comfort zones, gently and slowly, but I still pushed them.

If they wanted to try something, Explorers etc… they were never allowed to give up after the first time. I made them go again and again, tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns and all.

they had to go on enough occasions that they acclimatised to the change and then they were allowed to decide they weren’t enjoying it.  And, guess what?  Most of the time they decided to carry on because they’d overcome the initial anxiety.

And it turns out that one of the world’s greatest autism advocates (herself on the autistic spectrum), Temple Grandin, agrees with me (see link).

So many parents are afraid of the reaction they receive from their autistic child and surrender immediately, most of the time. The meltdown is fear of the unknown, so if the unknown is never experienced, how can the fear possibly diminish?

I nearly gave up on Nikita. I was so close to accepting that she would need full time care in a residential setting, it breaks my heart to realise that I would have been doing her such a disservice.  I would have been ‘stealing’ her life because of my negative beliefs.

She taught me that we should NEVER EVER give up on anyone, no matter how severe their challenges and if we need further proof, I point you back towards Carly.  Watch the video, even just a few seconds, and then tell me that her life isn’t worth living; that her parents should have given up on her?  Carly has a wicked sense of humour and the video of her interviewing Chaning Tatum via her electronic voice on her computer is absolutely hilarious.

No doubt my views will annoy some people.

But maybe some people will start to understand the message that, we as a family, are trying to spread.  The message is:

  1. Believe in people; never write them off.
  2. Be open minded enough to accept that your own attitude will limit the potential of the people around you. Lorie believes her autism is a ‘Super Power’ because that’s what I taught her to believe.
  3. Disability is a word that should be erased from the dictionary.  To disable something is to ‘render it useless’, and I’ve yet to meet but a handful of people who fit this description.
  4. And don’t judge people who appear to be OK. their past and current  struggles could tell a very different story.

My children want to advocate for autistic people as well as those challenged with mental health struggles because they’ve watched each other overcome so much and understand what the possibilities are.

They want the world to focus on the potential of each and every person and stop comparing people when they do not have the knowledge to be able to judge.

My children appear to be OK, and on a lot of levels they cope very well considering how challenging their lives are.

Underneath it’s a very different story, and they struggle constantly with pretty much everything.

They’re just determined not to let their limitations hold them back if they can possibly help it.

Please don’t let your imposed limitations hold them back either.

TedX Talk

Book ‘Unravelled’

Film ‘Kingdom of Us’

The Mad Shanks Residence: Have your cake…..all of it!

Yesterday I told you about Osborn and his ‘nail clippers’, (he still insists they do the job just fine!), so today I thought I would share a little about The Mad Shanks Residence’s eating rituals.

You may have already gathered that, generally, we’re not a family that conforms to any type of acceptable ‘normal’, but it is OUR normal, and let’s face it, every family has their own type of normal that may seem a little odd to the rest of us.

Recently, the term ‘sugar-free’ has been bandied about a lot, Mirie has been completely sugar free for several moths now and is adamant she won’t go back, I’m very proud of her.  Nikita, Lorie and I have dabbled with it, Lorie with more success than Nikita and I and she’s done very well.  The whole thing has certainly made all of us more aware of how much hidden sugar is in everything which can’t be a bad thing.

Even Lorie though, has slipped off the wagon a little bit recently, partly due to requiring some type of comfort through a difficult time and chocolate offering the perfect solution!  Anything in moderation is fine, I believe, so her little halo slip was quite ok, however, when she walked into the sitting room with a whole Red Velvet cake, still in the wrapper and a fork, I was slightly taken aback.

She hadn’t noticed me watching her so it was with an element of bemusement that I observed her eating from the entire cake.  I had wrongly assumed that she may have cut herself  slice and was too lazy to get a plate, I was wrong, she was fully intending to eat as much it as she wanted, finishing off whatever was left later on! (photographic evidence below of course!)

Caught…….

…..Red Handed!!!

I think her face in the second photo says it all…BUSTED LORIE!

I have a camera, and contrary to popular opinion around here, I know how to use it!  More lighthearted moments from The Mad Shanks Residence to follow, watch this space!

Website: http://www.vikieshanks.com

Book-Unravelled: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500593442&sr=8-1

TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xts1F-PoUNA

The Mad Shanks Residence: The right tools for the job!

We have a family philosophy in ‘The Mad Shanks Residence’, if a something does the job ‘well enough’, it’s fine!  Hence the blog about using nutcrackers as pliers, hammer etc…the best multi tool ever invented and apparently a real ‘female’ tool to use for the above.

The eternal household hunt for the ‘proper tool for the job’ continues unabated, the tool box is full of useless and very bizarre objects that have an indeterminate purpose in life but never suitable for the actual job in hand.  Goodness only knows where all of the actual screwdrivers, hammers etc…that I seem to have to purchase over and over again end up, the house is, indeed, a black hole!

Hammer Drill

My children have been known to ask me if the ‘hammer drill’ actually doubles as a hammer!

Having found a single key in a sink full of water yesterday (no, I have no idea what it was doing in there), and a random, single Weetabix in the fridge (no bowl!), I am now immune to asking the question ‘why’, there really is no point, nothing equates to ‘strange’ in our house any longer!

Still puzzling slightly over the key in the sink I wandered into the sitting room to find Osborn cutting his finger nails, a normal enough task, although I would prefer he did it in his bedroom, but still nothing strange.  That is, until  I peered more closely at the implement he was using.  Nail scissors?   Don’t be daft!  He was using the cutters on  a multi tool that was complete with hammer.  (photographic evidence below!)

Osborn

In his own words, Osborn said “They do the job!”

Various people wander in and out of our house, some stick around, and, for others, it’s just too weird and they never come back!  I think I’ve become so used to the weird happenings that it all seems perfectly normal to me now!  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  I think probably good, if I ever had the desire to live in a house that resembled the pictures in Good Housekeeping I would be well and truly ‘screwed’, so I think a brief shrug of the shoulders is the best way forward!

Long live weirdness I say.

Book ‘Unravelled’:- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500593442&sr=8-1

 

My story: Love your Scars

I’ve joined Spaghetti Agencies ‘Summer Camp’, absolutely brilliant, I’ve learnt so much from it, so a huge thanks to Todd and Jo!  One of the things Todd has pointed out (and he’s so right to do so!) is that people buy from people, therefore, people are interested to know how it all started, what was it that set you on your road in business or whatever your life’s mission is.

Summer Camp!  Read my blog ‘5 Reasons for loving the gift of social media!’.

This set me thinking, I write a huge amount about all sorts of things but I’ve never actually written about how I came to be walking the path I’m currently on.  Tracing the beginnings of something can be tricky, you can think it’s one thing and then realise that something actually came before that, if you really get your thinking cap on you can often trace something right back to your childhood and one single defining moment!

Sadly I can’t go back that far but it’s pretty cool if you can!  No, my journey began with a tragedy, followed by a sickening scenario that left my, already traumatised children, reeling from its impact.  I will explain.

Pippa was 6 and Jamie 16 when Paul died

My husband committed suicide, and in these circumstances there is a post-mortem and an inquest to establish cause of death.  An inquest can take many months to be heard, as was the case with Paul’s, it was five months after the event when I found myself at the Town Hall in Leamington with a room full of people, some of whom I didn’t know.  The Coroner decided that Paul’s death was, indeed, suicide, but not before he’d gone through the pathologists report in great detail, talking about some of the things I had decided, at that time, the children didn’t need to know.  They were all still very young and the gorier details could wait until they were old enough to handle them, if ever.

In happier times…..

An inquest is always a harrowing experience, opening up wounds that have barely started to heal anyway and making everything feel as raw as the day it happened.  But, it had been hanging over me for months, so, at least I could heave a sign of relief that it was finally over and done with, or so I thought.

A week or so later a friend rang me to ask if I had read the local paper, I responded no and she suggested I buy a copy as the inquest had been covered by reporters who had attended (the unknown people) and she was concerned at the content.  When I read the reports, the way it was written reduced me to tears of despair, frustration, anger and anxiety about how it would affect the children.  The journalists had seen fit to report the findings in the minutest detail and in the most sensational way.

I was devastated but also galvanised into action when the children found themselves on the receiving end of a stream of bullying at their various schools as the story spread like ‘wildfire’ throughout the community.  But, almost worse than that, they had been exposed to traumatic details of the event that caused them even more pain and left them asking me why I had withheld the truth (the autistic mind needs to know all of the facts and excluding certain details had left them doubting me, however good my intentions), all this at a time when I was the only person they had in the world and I needed them to trust that I would be their rock.

Anxious, raw and angry I contacted the Press Association with a complaint about the way the inquest had been reported and, to cut a long story short, they agreed with my complaint.  The relevant papers had to print an apology and I got to choose where in the paper it should be.  A small victory, and not helpful to us, but maybe, just maybe, they would think twice before covering such a traumatic event in the same way, maybe someone else would be spared the pain we’d been subjected to.

That piece in the local paper and the subsequent apology was picked up by the national press and several newspaper and magazine pieces followed, I wanted to raise awareness of how that report had affected the children and why people need to be so much more aware of how different people are affected in different ways by such events.

This led to my Literary Agent finding my story online and him asking me to write the book which led to another person finding me through an agency website called ‘Find a TV Expert’ and the idea of the film was born.  As time has gone on I’ve done many TV, radio and press pieces all aimed at the same outcome, better awareness of Autism and mental health issues and I now speak at conferences and events far and wide.

For the first time in my life I’m actually doing what I want to do and really enjoying it, so, from tragedy sprang a purpose and a cause that needs to be fought by all, if I can spread the word a little faster and to a wider audience through everything I do, that’s great!

My favourite saying is ‘SCARS REMIND US WHERE WE’VE BEEN, THEY DON’T HAVE TO DICTATE WHERE WE’RE GOING’and this is the philosophy I’ve tried to bring my children up with.  Life will leave you with plenty of scars, both physically and mentally, but they can be used to hold you back or propel you forward….let it be the latter.

 

My TED Talk:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xts1F-PoUNA

My book ‘Unravelled’:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500593442&sr=8-1

Website:  http://www.vikieshanks.com

 

 

 

Don’t Steal People’s Dreams Just Because You’ve Lost Yours…

 

I’ve have a lot of defining moments in my life, but recently I seem to have had more than my fair share.

This is a good thing; I learn a lot from these sparks of inspiration and very often they have helped to shape my future in a very positive way.

But how easy is it to project our perceived limitations onto someone else?

Osborn’s 18th birthday…need I say more?!

I try so hard not to limit my children’s ambitions, but when Osborn was selected to take part in the ‘Two Castles Run’ locally (it’s 10 Kilometres), to say I was concerned for his health would be an understatement!

Osborn has Cerebral Palsy, right side hemiplegia, which means that his CP affects his right side more dramatically than his left.  The muscles in his right leg regularly spasm, which is extremely painful and affects his ability to walk easily. His right leg is also an inch shorter than his left and all of the muscles in his leg are very tight.

All of this has always made running and sport very hard for him but has never deterred him from taking part, knowing all of his life that he would always come last.

He was never put off by this, he just wanted to have a go, and when numerous doctors consistently told us as a child that he would NEVER be able to ride a bike, he rose to the challenge, spent 3 entire summers trying (and falling off repeatedly) but, eventually managed to stay on and now regularly rides into town without any problems!  What a hero!

So, Osborn embarked on the 10k run with me biting my nails wondering if he would be rendered incapable of continuing after a short time.

I waited at the finish line in a state of nail-biting anxiety, the fastest runners came through at about the 40 minute point.  I naturally assumed that Osborn (if he made it at all) would be with the stragglers at the end and was prepared to settle on the grass for an hour or so waiting for him.

We watched as the main pack came through at around the hour mark and to my amazement and enormous relief, there was Osborn!

He resembled the colour of a beetroot and was obviously exhausted but, none the less, he was still going and looking every bit as determined as he always is.

His actual time was 1hr 1 minute and 32 seconds. This is an incredible achievement in any event, but, add to that the fact he hadn’t done any training, and it was nothing less than a miracle!

And so, yet again, I was taught, to never underestimate my children!

How many times have I panicked when they’ve wanted to do something that I was scared they would fail at?  How many times have they proved me wrong?  And how many more times in the future will they leave me flabbergasted with their achievements?

I don’t know!

All I do know is that I love it when they prove me wrong!  I never tell them they can’t do something they plan to do, I keep my reservations to myself so as not to discourage them, but I worry internally.

That concern will never go away for me, but that means I have many more years of being delighted and experiencing that exhilarating feeling of pride as they overcome all the odds yet again.

Always believe in people and if you doubt their abilities, keep it to yourself.

DON’T EVER BE THAT PERSON WHO STEALS SOMEONE ELSE’S DREAMS…

My TED talk is here:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xts1F-PoUNA&t=1s

Website:- http://www.vikieshanks.com

Book:- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

 

Gender Neutral: A step too far?

I’m constantly banging on about acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

I also try to have an open mind at all times, so I do hope no-one misreads this slightly controversial post!

Sadly, I was born in the era when boys were boys, girls were girls, and if you deviated from ‘the norm’ you were, at best, ostracised, and at worst, bullied, beaten and tormented!

It’s stating the obvious to declare my abhorrence at such unacceptable discrimination, but, unfortunately, it still persists in many areas within religious beliefs, communities and, more importantly, in people’s personal beliefs.

Has it already gone too far?

It will be many more generations before we reach a point of genuine love and acceptance of all people (if we ever reach that point), but the times we live in now are a very far cry from, say, 50 years ago. We continue to grow and the human race continues to learn, and long may it continue!

But we’re human beings, and we’re renowned, as a species, for taking things too far the other way, almost as a form of rebellion, and so it is becoming with gender neutralisation.

It’s great that we want to allow people to be who they are without judgement but, how far do we take it?

And nor should we!

I hear the term ‘gender neutral’ constantly now, especially from ‘parents to be’ who are declaring they want to dress their newborns in ‘gender neutral’ clothes etc…  Absolutely no problem with that as the baby won’t give a jot about what colour their nursery is or what they’re wearing as long it’s comfortable.  And the only challenge the rest of the population will have is when they first meet your offspring and have to mutter the words, “Oh isn’t….errrrrr….aren’t they beautiful!?” as they try to discern whether it’s a boy or a girl.  I’m guessing if we take ‘gender neutral’ to it’s natural conclusion the baby will just be ‘it’, we don’t want to impose either gender on them after all!

I jest, but where does it end?  What if your ‘gender neutral’ girl wants to wear pink fluffy princess dresses when she’s 3?  Or your ‘gender neutral’ boy wants to play with trucks and cars at a similar age?  Do we give girls Action Man and boys Barbies and make them play with them – or should we give them the choice to play with whichever they want?

‘Gender neutral’ wasn’t a thing when I was bringing my lot up, so I did put the girls in dresses and Osborn in rugby shirts and trousers, it didn’t occur to me to do anything else.

Osborn preferred playing with Lego and cars and the girls loved playing ‘dress up’, having tea parties, and nurturing their dolls. I had no problem with this!  Osborn mostly grew up with seven women and very few males in sight – people frequently postulated that he may become gay because of it!

Spot  the ‘Osborn’!

Herein lies one of the problems I believe. One doesn’t ‘become gay’; one either is or isn’t.  On a couple of occasions when he was very young, Osborn was subjected to the (in his mind) indignity of being put in a dress and having make up slapped on his face.  I guess with so many sisters it was inevitable that it would happen, but it hasn’t ‘turned him gay’, he is very much himself and happily heterosexual.

One’s sexual preference isn’t a choice one makes, it just is.  What concerns me slightly is that if we take the neutrality too far we’ll end up with people who worry about ‘coming out’ as being heterosexual.  Sounds far fetched?  My lot already talk about feeling slightly uneasy about admitting their sexual preferences although a couple of my girls have questioned their sexuality and worried about telling me.  But why would I care?  They’re still the same amazing people I already adore and respect and their sexual preference is right at the bottom of the list of things that I worry about.

Maybe I have a vision of the future where everyone wears baggy boiler suits and hides their gender as best they can for fear of judgement either way.  Both extremes are unacceptable, so is it time we stopped and paused for thought?  Maybe we need to take a breath and consider both sides of the coin and reach a logical, balanced approach that leaves people feeling free to be whatever they want to be.  No pushing, no leading, just acceptance of what is and who we are.

My children have each turned out to be very much their own person, in spite of dresses and long hair for the girls, and cars, Lego and short hair for Osborn.  We had boys’ toys and we had girls’ toys, and they were left to choose which they wanted to play with, the fact that the girls naturally leaned towards more traditionally girls toys didn’t bother me one iota. The fact that Osborn had no interest in wearing dresses and make-up didn’t concern me either.  I neither pushed nor led, I just let them be who they wanted to be, I have to say I’m very proud and happy with the way they all turned out.

Long live difference?  As long as it’s tempered with acceptance I say…….

My TED Talk:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xts1F-PoUNA&t=2s

Website:-

http://www.vikieshanks.com

My book, ‘Unravelled’:-

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1494715845&sr=8-1

 

Autism: At last, help is at hand!

We need more help…

As the tired old saying goes, ‘If I had a pound for every time…!’

In my case, for every time an anxious parent had asked me to refer them to someone independent to get advice about their special needs child.

Help is thin on the ground, not only via the NHS but independently as well.

….and we need people like Leo who understand this!

I’m not knocking the NHS provision, nothing could be further from the truth.

They’re a committed, hard working, passionate group of people. But they simply have too many referrals on the waiting list, and far too few resources to be able to keep up.

They’re just as frustrated as you are, I can assure you of that. Their dream is to have no waiting list and to be able to help everyone who needs it.

Post diagnosis

A lot of the frustration I encounter via the Autism Support Group I run (Autism One on One), is the very real lack of support or help post diagnosis.

It’s for this very reason that I set up the group 3 years ago, at least it’s somewhere for people to come and chat, exchange ideas and meet other people in the same situation.

The children have a ball as well, they get to be themselves without judgment – and meet other people who think in similar ways.

 

But there is still a huge lack of professional support available for parents who just need to know the basics or urgently need advice about schools etc…

Someone with very real answers

Enter Leo Berry!  Some of you will have come across her via IDS and the Autism Team, if you have encountered her, you know that what Leo doesn’t know really isn’t worth knowing!

Say ‘Hello’ to Leo!

The extent of her knowledge regarding Autism is second to none and she’s the ‘go to’ person when it comes to knowing what strategies will work best in the school environment.

The sort of issues she can help with include:

  • Communication
  • Girls and autism
  • PDA
  • Sensory processing
  • Social interaction
  • Teenagers and autism
  • Understanding behaviour
  • The education system for pupils with SEND.

Leo has now founded her own organisation following her retirement from the authorities, which means WE can have her, all of us!

All of her knowledge and expertise is available and you can now reach her via her website www.autismsupported.com.  

Personally I feel a huge sense of relief and gratitude that she’s now free to help anyone who desperately needs it, and yes, of course she will need to be paid, but her knowledge and advice is priceless.

Leo will be one of the professionals now attending Autism One on One so everyone can chat to her about how she can help if they come along to the group.

Thank you for listing Autism One on One as one of your partners Leo, I feel very honoured and privileged, and on behalf of all of our members, I wish you every success with your new venture and look forward to seeing at the next meeting on the 17th May.

My TED Talk is here:-

Autism: But, they don’t LOOK Autistic!

This is a picture of Bear. He’s a Chorkie (half Yorkshire Terrier, half Chihuahua):

Here is a picture of his brother, Cody. They have the same parents and are from the same litter. He’s also a Chorkie:-

Spot the difference?

Another puzzle!

Which of my girls in this picture are the twins?  If you know us, then you’re a step ahead. Those who don’t, I would love to hear what you thought before you scroll down any further!

Which ones are the twins?

TADAAAAAAAH!!!
THIS IS MIRIE (left, stripy top) and LORIE (right), MY BEAUTIFUL 
TWINIES!

Did you get it right?  We have great fun getting people to guess which two of the children are the twins. People very rarely guess correctly so if you got it, well done!

So why am I bringing this up?

What’s in a look?

Well I’d like to talk about one of my pet peeves!

Those of you with children on the spectrum, or if you are on the spectrum yourself, will relate to this and I’m well aware of how upsetting it can be.

It’s THAT moment when someone learns about yours, or your childrens’, ASD.

It’s THAT moment when they look you or your child up and down and come out with immortal words: “Oh, they/you don’t look autistic!”

It’s that moment when you feel your blood boil and at the same instance have that sinking feeling of “When will people get it?”.

Even if the commenters mean it in a good way, it’s really annoying.

You can’t ‘see’ autism; it’s to do with brain wiring so there’s very rarely anything to ‘see’, but that doesn’t mean that the challenges aren’t immense and often life-changing.

It’s the same with mental health challenges; you can’t ‘see’ them but that doesn’t mean that they’re not causing the person a huge amount of distress.

People can’t ‘see’ that Bear and Cody are brothers from the same litter.

People can’t ‘see’ that Lorie and Mirie are twins.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that they are.

The front people put on can hide myriad challenges

Please stop judging on looks alone.

Things aren’t always as they seem and every single person deserves understanding and tolerance, whether they have hidden challenges or not.

Everyone deserves a second chance, and everyone deserves respect. Maybe if our world was more accepting and understanding of people’s differences we would all get along a lot better. Everyone has a story you know nothing about.

So here’s what I’m asking of you…

When my children tell you that they are autistic, please don’t respond with the words “You don’t look autistic”.

It’s taken a lot of courage to tell you in the first place, so don’t invalidate them by disputing the truth.

And for everyone else out there, I won’t stop banging on about understanding, acceptance and tolerance whilst I still have the ability to breathe!  I’m on your side!

New driving fines, and Bungee Jumping?

Is it just me or was the traffic in Coventry moving a little slower and more carefully this morning?  Maybe it was my imagination but there did seem to be a lot fewer ‘D***H***S’ around this morning.

Anyway, I didn’t meet one this morning, not a single one, all the way through Coventry to Pippa’s school near the Ricoh Arena and back.  As I was driving I was listening to my favourite morning radio guys, Ollie and Simon on Touch FM, they were discussing the new fines and whether they would make the roads safer, but all that aside for a moment, I have to say their maths is appalling! Come on guys, I listened with dismay as Simon calculated that 150% of £250 would be around £600!  150% of £250 is £375 guys, time for you both to have a calculator on standby at all times, may help you with the kids quiz as well.

These guys are going to hate me but I know a really good maths tutor!

Of course, I’m pulling your legs lads, but on a more serious note, will the new laws on using a mobile phone whilst driving and now the speeding limit fines actually help?  Simon was arguing that being on your phone doesn’t impact your speed, I have to disagree Simon!  If you’re distracted on your phone, how well can you focus on anything else, including your speed?  I listened to a few people being interviewed and I’ve done a bit of research online, mixed opinions out there it seems.  If you’re a boring git like me and you adhere to the speed limit anyway (I know they’re there for a reason) and I don’t use my mobile phone whilst I’m driving because I know that’s dangerous.  I’m guessing the people who are most pissed off are those that do both and think there’s no great fuss to be had?

So, do either of these things really matter?  I’ve heard one person today claiming that if they want to risk their life it’s their business, so that’s ok?  Errrrrrr……have these people not noticed the other cars on the road, the pedestrians, joggers, children?  If you drive like a dick you’re endangering a lot more than your own life and why do these people care so little about their life?  The media are constantly telling us about cars that have mounted the pavement and killed innocent people quietly going about their own business, very often caused by high-speed in a built up area or lack of attention being paid to their driving because they were distracted.

Many motorway crashes could be avoided if people drove properly, when my kids go out in their cars I’m not worried about their driving, they’re all very good drivers, I worry about the other idiots on the road that can cause disaster at any moment, no matter how sensible they may be.

Risking your own life is your business , please be my guest if Bungee Jumping off a cliff is your thing or base jumping from high buildings (or whatever may turn you on), but, if your antics may affect someone else (and every time you get into your car you’re in charge of a lethal weapon) do the right thing.  Respect other people’s right to live their life however they want to and don’t risk killing someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband etc… You are not God, and your driving isn’t as amazing as you think, anything can happen at any moment that can cause you to take action and if you don’t, someone may well be killed.

Do I feel passionately about this?  Yes, I bloody well do!  In all my years of driving I’ve had countless near misses and very rarely of my own making, I respect other people and their right to be safe on the roads, I drive accordingly.

You want to risk your own life?  FINE!  But don’t risk other peoples lives…