The Book I Never Planned to Write: Looking After Your Autistic Self by Niamh Garvey
I never planned on writing a non-fiction book, especially not one about autism. I was an aspiring children’s author, not a non-fiction author. I didn’t even know that I was autistic until 2020; I would probably never have found out had my daughter not been diagnosed as autistic.
In my frantic search for information on my daughter’s autism, I found endless contradictions, both on-line, and from professionals. Everyone had their own ideas about how to support an autistic child, and I often disagreed completely with some of the suggestions. I took my daughter out of one therapy class after the therapist insisted that my daughter maintain eye contact in order to get a reward. I saw this as cruel, especially as I had always struggled with eye contact myself. I knew how horrible it feels to force yourself to look someone in the eye, and was not going to inflict that upon my daughter. My search for evidence-based information led me to start a Diploma in Autism Studies in University College Cork.
As the course progressed, I started to realise that I had all the autistic traits that I was learning about. My traits didn’t present themselves in the same way that they did in my daughter, because no two autistic people are the same.
I had always sensed that I was different, and known that I had to work hard to manage social situations. I practised facial expressions and my tone of voice, and created social scripts to prepare what to say and how to say it. I was anxious and found my emotions overwhelming. I spent most of my life suppressing the repetitive movements that my body loves to make. From a young age, I started to hide much of my true self in order to avoid being bullied and stigmatised. When I showed my true self, people showed me less respect.
I presumed that if I could hide my autistic traits, then I couldn’t be autistic. I had gone to great efforts to hide my oddities and differences throughout my life. But the Diploma taught me that being able to hide your autism doesn’t make you any less autistic; it just makes your mental health suffer.
In one memorable lecture, a lecturer, Claire Droney, paused the lecture and said “Niamh, you need to write a book”. She told me that many autistic people would benefit from my coping strategies, and she asked would I consider writing them down and submitting to Jessica Kingsley Publishers (an Imprint of Hachette). To say I was surprised is an understatement. I had been an aspiring children’s author for years, building up my confidence and skill in writing as a member of the Big Smoke’s “Advanced Writing for Children” group. I had never seen myself as a non-fiction writer, but Claire had sparked an idea, and the idea stuck.
In the second year of the course, I was diagnosed as autistic, aged 34. This was a wonderfully liberating experience, as I was now able to understand many of my differences and social difficulties. Looking back at my life through the lenses of autism allowed me understand many aspects of my past and present life. It allowed me to reflect on what adaptations I could make, or request, to improve my daily life. I started making strategies to support myself, and putting support systems in place for myself.
I began looking for books on strategies for autistic adults. It didn’t take long to notice the stark gap in this field. There were many books written for parents of autistic children (many with conflicting advice), and an increasing number of marvellous autobiographies written by autistic adults. However, there was a gap for a book with research-based information and strategies for autistic adults, especially one written by an autistic person themself.
I had no idea if I could write non-fiction, but I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a go. Never had a book flowed out of me so easily. The only thing that paused my flow, was when I needed to trawl through academic literature, to check if there was research evidence to back up, or contradict, my own experiences.
I submitted to Jessica Kingsley Publishers without much expectation. Over the years, I have had a number of rejections as a children’s fiction writer, so I was expecting another rejection with this book. Instead, Jessica Kingsley Publishers expressed an interest in my book.
The book was published on March 21st, and I have been blown away by the glowing reponse and reviews, not just from autistic adults, but also from family members of autistic relatives, and professionals. The majority of my readers are autistic adults who can read or listen to the book themselves, reflect on the information and apply the strategies to their own life. I also hope that this book will educate carers and loved ones of the many autistic adults who do not have the capacity to read, listen to, or understand this book themselves, due to age or intellectual disability. The more that autistic adults share our experiences and needs, the more people will understand how to support the autistic people who do not have the capacity or communication skills to support their own autism.
In all my years writing for children, I never considered writing non-fiction. I’m happy to say it has been an amazing experience, and one I enjoyed so much more than I ever expected. I am now writing another non-fiction book for autistic people, and I am also tipping away at my fiction. I am so grateful to Claire Droney so stopping that lecture and planting the non-fiction seed.
(c) Niamh Garvey
About Looking After Your Autistic Self:
It is a myth that autistic children grow into ‘less autistic’ adults. In fact, many autistic adults feel more overwhelmed as they age as the stresses of social demands such as relationships, parenting, or the work environment increase.
Looking After Your Autistic Self: A Personalised Self-Care Approach to Managing Your Sensory and Emotional Well-Being offers tips and tricks designed to reduce sensory and emotional stress, to look after your autistic self. From understanding what’s happening when the stress response kicks in to using the ‘detective habit’ to spot your individual strengths and triggers.
Featuring strategies including ‘quick calm plans’ for managing triggers and lived-experience advice on understanding emotional regulation, coping with sensory overload and how to look after your senses during intimacy, this guide is here to ensure that you don’t just survive adulthood, you thrive in it.
Order your copy online here.