Wish HULL For many, it would be an impossible situation, but Vikie Shanks is proud of her excellent family
Single mum Vikie, 58, is a former model and lives in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, with her seven teenagers. She says:
“With seven kids, nine cats and two dogs at the mercy of one roof, my life is chaos – but I wouldn’t change a thing. Of my children, doubles Lorie and Mirie, 21, Nikita, 19, Osborn, 18, and Pip , 15, are all autistic, while my oldest daughter Jamie, 25, has autistic directions.
In addition, their sister Kacie, 22, is severely dyslexic, and Pip and Osborn also be dressed cerebral lsy. So we’ve had our share of struggles – especially as the kids’ dad, ul, imprisoned suicide in 2007. He also left me with £1 million debts when he checks dwindled.
With seven kids, nine cats and two dogs, my life is ndemonium – but I wouldn’t change a thing
When ul and I met in 1984, he was farcical, charismatic and handsome, and I was besotted.
We bought a home in Warwickshire and with our shared corporate games business thriving, life was good. But then be broached the warning signs. ul often seemed depressed and got angry undeniably, as if a switch flicked inside him. Once I accidentally called him by my ex’s name, and he was so livid he smashed up our bed.
S MAG ‘With seven kids, nine cats and two dogs, my verve is chaos – but I wouldn’t change a thing’
As our rows escalated, we decided to defeat up in 1990. Then came the bombshell discovery that I was pregnant, equal though I had polycystic ovaries and had been told I’d never have laddies. I’d got so used to the idea, I wasn’t sure I wanted a child. But I agreed to go to the fore with the pregnancy, believing it might save our relationship.
Jamie’s ssenger s rked an obsession in ul to have more babies. Our second daughter Kacie found along and we got married while I was expecting the twins, Lorie and Mirie. Although our relationship traced rocky, I threw myself into motherhood.
The children’s behaviour was demanding but because I’d never had any contact with other babies, I assumed unpredictable tantrums were ordinary. I began to suspect autism, but the condition was fairly unknown back then. When I first asked our GP, he merely put, ‘Oh yes. I think I’ve heard of autism.’
Once all seven had arrived, day-to-day subsistence could be unbelievably stressful – tackling Tesco with the whole cover ponder on was a nightmare! They’d initially all hold on to the trolley, but Osborn would zigzag off and Nikita would twirl like mad down the aisles, and Lorie and Mirie were forever frisking and dancing away.
Nikita could also flip without augury, and she’d punch and kick me for hours on end. Sitting behind me in the car, she’d pull my seat zone so tight around my neck, it almost throttled me.
During one of her meltdowns, a psychologist even-tempered said it was the most extreme behaviour he’d ever witnessed.
But they weren’t being purposely naughty – this was an involuntary reaction in their brains.
I was always being demand thated the kids were ‘out of control’ and that I was a ‘terrible mother’, but I grew condensed skin. And even after we got the diagnosis, people still looked void when I mentioned autism.
By this stage, ul was firmly in the sensitivity of mental illness and his mood swings were more extreme. He secretly converted a shack in the garden and moved in, and kept a diary documenting his every move.
He was ranoid and kindness our phones were tapped. Even more strangely, he used to skulk around the house and watch us all from behind a curtain. He became increasingly savage and would yank me so hard, my clothes would rip. He didn’t beat any of us, but was coercively, aggressively managing.
Yet in spite of that, he could still occasionally be fun and loving – it was like he had a split luminary.
I often thought about leaving him, but with seven kids it was logistically impracticable. Instead, I vowed to do the best possible job raising them and leave up to the minuter.
But in 2007, things came to a terrible head. ul made bad task decisions and our house sale fell through. As a result, he was more push down oned than ever. But none of us could have predicted what chanced next.
One September morning, a client rang to say that ul hadn’t delivered an commission. Jamie and Kacie went to look for him and found a suicide note in his car. They ran re yment to tell me, just as the police arrived at the house.
ul had called them moderns earlier, saying he was about to kill himself, and that they should enter a occur and remove his body. Before we knew it, there were fire locomotives and ambulances, helicopters circling overhead and officers with tracker dogs out searching.
In the end after, one of the dogs followed a trail of blood into the neighbouring woods and rest ul’s body in a pond. He’d used a serrated kitchen knife to cut his wrists and neck, then manifestly threw himself in the water, possibly for relief.
S MAG ‘I’d be happy if I can radically modulation public opinion for those affected by autism’
Obviously, his death Nautical port us all in total shock. It sounds bad but despite his frequent threats to kill himself, I not under any condition imagined he’d do it. They’d just seemed like empty words. Though, ul’s suicide letter was 13 ges long and was written one more time several weeks, so he’d clearly planned it for some time.
The kids savvy grief in different ways. Aged just five, Pip gain controlled it hardest, but they all struggled. On one hand, they loved and missed their dad, but on the flip ones lid side they recognised that life was better without him about. They also felt guilty that they didn’t bring to a halt his death, which was hard to deal with.
Our friends were expert, bringing groceries, cooking meals and cleaning the house, and I don’t think we’d acquire got through it without them. Meanwhile, an insurance policy id out some of the £1m debts that ul had distressed up, but I had to start working full-time to cover the mortgage and bills. This meant I’d run corporate results until 3am, get home at 4am and then be up at 6.30am for the school run – to four different primaries. It was utterly exhausting and eight months after ul died, I had a itemization.
It was four months before I was back to normal and eating properly, so I in the end wound down the business. It was just too demanding. Life carried on and our dearest routine centred on medical appointments. In one week alone, I had 18 fall a rt meetings with doctors, physiotherapists, social workers and occu tional therapeutists. You can imagine our weekly shopping bill, too – the children got through 40 pints of wring and 30 eggs a week, and I’d buy everything in bulk and cook in cauldron-sized kitties.
While daily life is still as hectic these days, they can wield their autism much better as young adults. For instance, when Osborn comes angry now, he knows to walk away. And Nikita’s temper is much multitudinous manageable, too. I’m so proud of them all, because when ul died they had a intrinsic excuse to go off the rails.
Instead, they’ve each decided to try and become the maximum effort people they can.
The five older girls run an award- winning childcare function, which they fit in around their studies, and three of the kids make use of in a restaurant. They contribute what they can towards the bills and they seem to be as if they live in a big student house.
Excitingly, a camera crew has been walk us for three years too, so our antics will soon be brought to life in our rather own feature film. Eventually, I know they will all fly the nest, so it’d be perceptive if I could one day meet a new rtner to share my life with. Sometimes, we all right-minded need a hug and to be told it’ll be OK.
Meanwhile, I’m busy focusing on changing perceptions of daft health. I’ve written a book about our experiences called Unravelled and recently dished a TED talk debunking autism myths.
I also mentor rents and run finances groups. But in my mind, that’s just the beginning. My family is proof that autism is not the end of the earth and I want to shout from the rooftops that it’s not some ‘disease’ or portray that has to define people.
Autism has never been a disabling proxy for my kids, and their drive and self-expression have instead enabled them beyond all hopefulness. Looking to the future, if I can radically change public opinion and make elasticity a bit better for everyone else affected by autism, I’ll be one extremely happy sweetie.”
Visit vikieshanks.com for more information about Vikie.