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UEL student releases book of poetry about her experiences with autism

Aerial view of Docklands campus

Lauren Smith's ‘Tick tock’ is part of her call to action during World Austism Awareness Week

A University of East London (UEL) special education student has released a book of poetry documenting the challenges she has faced as a young woman with autism.  

Lauren Smith said she hopes ‘Tick tock: it’s time to listen’ will help young people with autism feel less isolated and more hopeful as they go move through the education system. 'Tick tock: it's time to listen' is being launched on 5 April at Weston Museum in Weston-super-Mare in conjunction with World Autism Awareness Week.

Lauren, 20, said, “I feel that if people were more aware of the difficulties and the support needs of those with autism and other hidden disabilities they would be more patient and compassionate. 

“I have done lots of activities during past Autism Awareness Weeks. However, I feel that there needs to be more public understanding of autism. The condition is life-long, and one week isn’t enough. Awareness and understanding of autism should be promoted on a daily basis and people need to show respect for those with hidden disabilities.”

Lauren, who lives in Weston-super-Mare, is active in fundraising and increasing the awareness of the issues faced by young autistic people.  On 6 April, she will host an event in Weston-super-Mare for young people, parents and professionals to share information on local support services, network and hear talks from people with autism.

According to the National Autistic Society, about 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, defined as a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. Five times as many males as females are diagnosed with the condition – experts say that autism is under- diagnosed in females largely because of a tendency to overlook girls with autism as they can appear more high-functioning than boys.

Lauren said, “To an extent, I feel that girls and women on the autism spectrum are under-represented. There is now more information about females widely available, but with the increasing number of females being missed or misdiagnosed, there still isn't enough recognition or specific criteria to diagnose females correctly.”

Lauren said she first presented with signs of autism at the age of 8. She was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at 12 after nearly two years of formal observation and her mother’s dogged perseverance. 

Lauren said, “I am very good at masking my difficulties. In the school and college environment, I sat at the back, silently struggling, without asking for help, so I was missed. 

“My behaviours at home quickly spiralled out of control because of my heightened anxieties, frustrations and inability to mask them for much longer. Girls are good at imitating others’ social behaviour so they are often considered as socially competent.”

Lauren said she struggled with getting support at school, and her teachers were often unable to understand her needs. As a result, she became frustrated and withdrawn.  Poetry was a saving grace, something she turned to as a means to vent her trapped thoughts. ‘Tick tock’ reflects upon her experiences.

Lauren is now a successful long-distance special education student at the University of East London. After graduation, she wants to set up her own autism awareness business, delivering resources to schools and creating a support group for young people with autism to provide them with a safe and supportive space.

She said, “I have applied my previous experience and knowledge to the special education degree. I am thoroughly pleased to be studying a degree course after my endless battles with getting support and people doubting my abilities.”