Laura Jane smiling while on the phone

We meet author and interior design journalist, Laura James. Laura is autistic and she’s about to downsize to a smaller property. She also just won the Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Individual on the Autism Spectrum at the National Autistic Society’s Professional Awards. Here, she tells us a little about herself and the design tips that make her feel at home.

How did you get into writing and interior design?

"I’ve been a freelance journalist for the past 18 years or so. I write on all sorts of subjects from psychology to interiors and food as well as books, including my latest which is a memoir on autism. In many ways, it’s the perfect profession for an autistic person.

"Most of the time I work from home; I can indulge my special interests, one of which is creating beautiful spaces and I get to spend a lot of my time researching, which I really enjoy."

You’re moving house! Why are you choosing to downsize?

"It was a big decision to move, as change can be hard for autistic people. We’ve lived in our current house for the past 17 years, but it has simply become too big for us. Our children have left home and there is so much space we’re just not using.

"The bills for a big house can be ruinously expensive and we’re finding living somewhere so remote less enjoyable than we used to. So, we’re moving to a tiny house in a city for a year to see if we like it."

Do you have a preference for particular designs or colours in your home? And if so, why?

"I find pattern overwhelming, so I tend to stick to painted walls. I love rich paint with lots of pigment that changes with the light and tend to invest in colours from the higher-end brands. I’m also opting for more compact furniture so that we can give the illusion of space in our new, smaller home."

What are your tips for people who want to support an autistic person who is moving home?

"Routine can be important to autistic people, so it makes sense to try to stick to the things they are used to doing even though you’re somewhere new. It also makes sense to try to minimise the disruption by building new routines as quickly as possible.

"On moving day, create a space which is quiet and away from the chaos so that your autistic family member has a place to retreat to and make sure any sensory aids, such as noise-cancelling headphones or dark glasses, are available and not packed in some impossible-to-find box."

What do you wish the public understood about autism?

"Before I was diagnosed I had a very sketchy idea of autism, so I completely get that it’s confusing for people to understand the myriad factors that come with being autistic. For many autistic people, change – and things happening unexpectedly – can often cause real anxiety, as can social situations. Some of us need longer than usual to process information, so may take a while to answer a question.

"Others may struggle to cope with sensory inputs, such as light, sound, smell and texture. Being overwhelmed by sensory information that non-autistic people can easily filter out can lead to a meltdown, which might look alarming to an outsider. Most of all, though, I wish people understood that autism doesn’t magically disappear when we reach adulthood."

To learn more about how a sudden change of plan can impact an autistic person like Laura, watch our new film.

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