Today we’re introducing our Community Spotlight, Lauren Osborne…

Hi Lauren, please introduce yourself
My name is Lauren Osborne and I am an illustrator and author from South Shields. I have illustrated 4 books so far, and I am now working on illustrating books 5 and 6! When I was 10, I received my autism diagnosis. This is when everything started to make sense for me, as I always felt different from all of the other kids that I knew.

What was the inspiration behind your book ‘It’s OK To Be Me’?
The inspiration from the book came largely from my own life experiences. I always felt different growing up, like the odd one out. I remember getting picked on a lot because I didn’t understand certain situations, and I always found making and keeping friends difficult (I still do). The inspiration also came from what I have been told by others over time. I have been told that I ”don’t look autistic”, I have been told that for an autistic person ”you are so high functioning!” I think people mean these to be compliments, but they don’t seem to understand how hurtful and insulting those comments actually are. They always come across as backhanded, no matter how well meaning the person might be. I still get these types of comments from time to time, but now I just roll my eyes and laugh them off. They’ll just be inspiration for the next book ha!

It’s really refreshing to see a book based on self-expression, and a personal experience of autism as well as beautiful illustrations. What came first – the illustrations, the idea or the narrative?
The idea for the book is what came first! I had the book idea back in my last year of my Bachelors Degree, and I developed a few illustrations at the time for a different project. It wasn’t until my MA that I put the idea of a graphic novel into motion. That’s when I started writing and developing the illustrations that I wanted for the book. The whole process took about 2 years! I wanted to make a book by an autistic person, for autistic people. When I was doing my research for the book at university, I found very little autistic representation in books. The autism was either alluded to or presented as that person just being ”quirky” or ”eccentric”. Other times, particularly for younger audiences, the book was written about an autistic person from the perspective of a friend or family member or had to spend the story learning to understand the autistic person. The autistic person was rarely the main character of their own story.

What do you hope people will get out of reading it?
My hope is that people who are going through what I did feel seen in some way. I never felt seen. I never saw a positive representation or example of an autistic person in the media growing up, and I know that if I had I would have been so much more comfortable with myself at a much earlier age; so I wrote my book for 10 year old me.

I know so many people who weren’t as lucky as I was, and got their autism diagnosis much later on in their lives. I want people to know that being autistic doesn’t change who you are as a person, it’s just one thing that makes you well, you! Autism is not a dirty word. It’s not something that anyone should be ashamed of or be made to feel less than. For so many people I know, it was a relief for them to get that diagnosis; because they finally understood who they were. I want autistic people to know that they are enough, and that it’s ok to be themselves. That’s why I titled the book It’s OK To Be Me. You’re you, and that’s ok.

What is the change you wish to see?
I want to see the stigma surrounding autism and autistic people removed. The understanding about autism has seemed to have improved, but there is still a long way to go in terms of true acceptance. We have had Autism Awareness, now we need Autism Acceptance. Autism presents differently for every autistic person, we are not one in the same. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one autistic person; you’ve met one autistic person.

Can you recommend any other resources such as a book, video or podcast to push for autism acceptance and change?
Absolutely! One of my favourite graphic novels is called InvisIble Differences, which is written by author Julie Danchez. I love this in particular because of how the colours change throughout the story. At the beginning of the book, the colours are minimal. Everything is grey, with only a few pops of colour appearing; mainly to signal changes in emotion. However, once the main character realises she is autistic (spoiler alert!), the world slowly starts to fade into many different colours. I think it’s a beautiful representation of self-acceptance. I would also recommend Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, written by author DR Sarah Bargiela which uses real-life case studies from actual autistic people.

If you would like to purchase Lauren’s book you can do so here.