For so long I was just watching the world pass me by. From a really young age I just felt like no one understood me, except for my close family, aka my bodyguards! Each day I would wake up and not be excited about what was in front of me unlike how I’m sure most other young kids feel at the same age. I certainly never felt cool! At the same time, I wasn’t shy – in fact, I started getting a bit of a chip on my shoulder about, well, life!

But, I realised that most of what I was feeling was because I was afraid. Not afraid of who I was, but afraid of not fi tting in. That’s not cool, I thought. I just wanted to be who I knew I always could be and I got there in the end But I had a few life bumps on the way.

Getting a job was a life changer for me. It was so hard knocking on doors that just wouldn’t open, no matter how hard I tried. I knew I was capable, but people couldn’t see past my learning disability. When I started work at Mencap it was like a big, comforting hug off your mum!

After that, I just grew and grew. In fact, having a learning disability has led to events I never thought possible. Young Ciara would certainly never have expected some of the things that have happened! First off, I get to go on national TV and talk about learning disability – that defi nitely earns me some cool points, right?! I’ve got to meet loads of celebrities too like Grantchester actress, Kacey Ainsworth, who I’m really proud to call a friend.

I’m so passionate about change – I just want people to understand that there’s more to me than my learning disability. See past that and you’ll see I’m funny, I have friends, I’m married and have a job. I’m you and you are me. People can still be a bit shy about talking to people with a learning disability but it’s definitely getting better and I’d just tell them to do it; they might be pleasantly surprised because we’re a pretty cool bunch!

It’s great to see people with a learning disability being celebrated more and more thanks to inspiring people like Sarah Gordy MBE. TV shows like The Undateables (despite the offensive name) have helped get the conversation going to reduce the stigma and Coronation Street led the way with Liam Bairstow becoming the first actor with Down’s syndrome to be given a role in a British soap. That was so good to see.

When people describe me as a person with a learning disability, I now feel proud rather than embarrassed. I want to show the world that it’s OK and I can achieve big things. I’m not going to change for anyone because I don’t need to.

This is me. And I like it that way!

And by the way, the chip on my shoulder has gone – well mostly; a bit of the diva can still come out occasionally!

This column is dedicated in memory of my cousin Amy Heinburger.

About Ciara Lawrence

Ciara Lawrence is one of the most well-known campaigners in the UK with a learning disability. She writes on disability issues and has been published in The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Independent. Ciara works as a campaigns support officer for Mencap and led their campaign to make OKCupid remove an offensive question about people with low IQs. She gained national press coverage and the dating website eventually bowed to public pressure. In 2016 she won the CharityComms Inspiring Communicator Award for her campaigning work. Ciara also features on the Shaw Trust’s Power list as one of the 100 most influential disabled people.

Twitter: @ciarale01