Lauren Gilbert became so used to fighting for their rights as an autistic student that they decided to run for disability officer at their university’s student union.

“I’d seen that nothing was going to happen if I didn’t make it happen myself,” says Lauren, 21, a final-year Astrophysics student at Newcastle University.

I’ve put a lot of time and energy and effort into lessening the negative experiences for any future students, because I don’t want them to have the same experiences I’ve had.

Lauren is now the disability officer and has campaigned for sunflower lanyards on campus, for all lectures to be videoed and available online, and for students to be hired to create accurate captions for those videos.

They have also put on a self-advocacy session to teach the skills they have learned through experience. They say: “It’s the same for any disabled person, you have to learn to voice your own needs and be very assertive to make sure you get any kind of support.

It has taught me a lot about being a very strong advocate for myself, being much more assertive without coming off as attacking staff. I have definitely had to learn a lot.

Lauren was diagnosed as autistic and with ADHD in their second year at university. The university’s disability support team provided them with a specialist advisor and created a support plan setting out the adjustments they needed.

The adjustments, which autistic students are legally entitled to, can include things like separate rooms and extra time for exams, rest breaks, recorded lectures and course materials provided in advance.

“The disability team could not have been better,” Lauren says. “But there’s often a very large disconnect between the support that the disability team say they can offer and lecture staff and academics actually implementing that support.

So it’s great that I have this support plan, but it doesn’t mean anything if staff aren’t going to read it or say they don’t think I need it, or they’re not going to implement it.

As a result, Lauren is backing our Everyday Equality campaign as part of Autism Acceptance Week. They would like to see training for all academic staff in disability and neurodiversity, as well as the option to study remotely for students that need it.

And they want to carry on changing things for the better themselves, both on their social media platform (@neurodiversitywithlozza) and through writing and public speaking.

“I was invited to speak at The Autism Show last year, and a mum and young girl came to talk to me afterwards because the girl wanted to do theoretical physics when she was older,” Lauren says.

“It was literally like looking at 13-year-old me, and it was healing to see her have this wealth of support and a really good community around her. It made me realise maybe I should do this more and help turn negative things into positive education points.”

Autistic voices and experiences will be front and centre of our Autism Acceptance campaign this year as we push for Everyday Equality.

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