Lauren Osborne says she’s living proof that when autistic people are given the right tools and left to get on with it, they thrive.

Lauren, 24, from South Shields, is an illustrator and author with a first-class degree, a Masters and three books to her name. She is backing our call for Everyday Equality and has provided illustrations for the campaign.

She says she was lucky to be diagnosed as autistic at the age of 10 – “one of my teachers had just gone on a course about girls with autism and picked up on me” – and that her dad Malcolm went out and got his own diagnosis aged 52 so he could be a role model for her. 

“My dad was a major in the military, an NHS practitioner. He’s had a very successful life and what he wanted to do for me was to prove that just because you are different, it doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want to do,” she says.

Sure enough, Lauren cites being autistic as one of her biggest strengths.

I am able to see the world from a different perspective and do things in a way that others might not have even thought about.

That led her to write and illustrate her own book, It’s OK To Be Me, about her experiences as an autistic woman, which recently sold out on Etsy. She says she wrote it for 10-year-old Lauren before her diagnosis, who didn’t have friends who understood her or the reassurance she was fine as she was. 

She says: “I was the annoying kid with a big mass of curly hair who didn’t understand social cues. I might as well have walked around with a sign saying ‘pick on me’.”

After a troubled time at mainstream primary school, Lauren went to Bamburgh, a specialist school in South Shields, and thrived.

We were nurtured in an environment where being different was the norm. We all got each other.

So it was a shock when she went from a school of around 150 pupils to a college with 3,000 students.  She also felt that college authorities didn’t understand what autism was. “I struggle socially, I don’t struggle academically,” she says. “But for some reason people seem to think that’s one and the same.”

Lauren was infuriated when, at a progress evening, it was clear some of her tutors did not know she was autistic. And when her mum pointed it out, one of the tutors joked that it explained all her “Lauren-isms”. It spurred her on to work harder than ever.

She progressed to Sunderland University to study illustration and design, where she says felt accepted and supported. “I had built this thing in my head about me being autistic, so I asked a tutor if it was going to be a problem,” she says.

And she turned round and said, ‘why would that be a problem?’ She was one of the first people in an academic setting who’d ever reassured me that I wasn’t the problem, and it meant a lot.

Lauren became skilled in blackwork illustration, using pen and ink, and set herself up as a freelance illustrator. She has illustrated two books – Peggotty Witch and Meggie Magicia by Wendy Errington – and published her own graphic novel It’s OK To Be Me.

She hopes the book will help spread acceptance of neurodiversity. “What I want is for autistic people just to be allowed to get on with it. When you allow us do that and give us the tools we need to thrive, we succeed.”

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