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Niamh Garvey and Rebecca Burgess: 'Being Autistic' (and what that actually means)

Before we talk about the book, what are three things readers should know about each of you?


  1. I love reading books for children as much as I love books for adults.

  2. My favourite places to be are beside the sea, or in my garden.

  3. I am autistic!


  1. Drawing is everything to me. I'd still be doing it every day, even if it wasn't my job!

  2. I also love gardening, card games, and singing in a show choir.

  3. I am autistic too!

Why did you create the guidebook?

Niamh:  I kept getting asked how a parent can explain autism to a newly diagnosed child. I love to use books to explain things to my own children, and so I decided to write a book that does the explaining for the parents!

I’ve been writing for children as a hobby for years, which taught me that children don’t like being preached to; non-fiction books need to be fun. My first rule with this book was that I didn’t want it to feel like a school workbook, as I know how much my own neurodivergent children hate workbooks. This gave me the freedom to really use my imagination and have fun with each explanation.

A lot of autistic people are visual thinkers, so I decided early in the writing process that I wanted to explain a lot of the concepts through images. I had recently read Rebecca’s book “Speak up” and I fell in love with her illustrations, so I asked my editor at Jessica Kingsley if we could get Rebecca to illustrate it. Rebecca’s illustrations add another whole level of fun to the book; she truly brought my explanations to life, and brought another autistic perspective into the book.

What need does the book fill?

Rebecca:  This book is a perfect way to help autistic kids understand themselves better, without going through a process that might make autism feel daunting or medicalized. There are many books like this for adults, and informational books for teens who have known for a while and want help navigating specific situations. But there's not really any for kids in the primary school age-range.

Niamh did an amazing job writing something funny and down to earth. I know we both wanted something that made kids feel happy about being autistic after being diagnosed, and having a fun book that's interwoven with characters you get to know and silly scenarios is super helpful for that.

What was the process like, to write the book?

Niamh: I was actually in the middle of writing my second book for autistic adults when the idea for this book came to me, and wouldn’t leave me alone! I was waking up at night with ideas and sentences, and I knew the book wouldn’t let me wait to write it. It was bursting to get out.

So I listened to my gut and began writing it, and it pretty much flowed out of me. I asked a lot of people for input on the book, such as how much detail was too much detail, and whether I could include big concepts like “monotropism” and “the double empathy theory” in a children’s book (the answer was a resounding yes).

I did get momentarily stuck a few times, when trying to explain complicated topics to kids, but it was a fun exercise in learning how to condense big ideas into simplified language and imagery.

What was the process like to illustrate it ?

Rebecca: Super fun and satisfying! The illustrations and text are very interwoven with each other, rather than the art simply complementing what is already in the text. Because of this, Niamh sent over suggestions for each image next to text. I generally kept with these and occasionally went with a metaphor I thought might work better. I really love younger-kid illustration but don't get to do it very much, so it was really nice to get my teeth into this project.

Who is your ideal reader?

Niamh: I aimed this book at children aged 7+, but multiple people have told me that the book is brilliant for teenagers and adults too, as it basically explains the many aspects of being autistic in simple, uncomplicated language and images. Although the book actively addresses autistic readers, I think non-autistic readers will equally enjoy it.

If you’d had this book growing up, what would it have meant?

Niamh: I wish I had known I was autistic as a child, and what that meant, so this book would have increased my self-understanding and self-compassion. What a gift that would have been.

Rebecca: I was also undiagnosed as a kid, and have a lot of memories of getting really worked up over things that other people were finding easy. I used to feel really bad about it and confused, and used to seek out stories where kids were like me, so I could feel better about myself (at the time unfortunately nothing like that existed). So this kind of book would've been a huge boost to my confidence, and I think given me some language for feelings and situations that neurotypical people didn't feel or understand.


Rebecca Burgess is a comic artist and illustrator working in the UK. They have written and illustrated several award winning YA and children’s books with HarperCollins, Jessica Kingsley, and BQB books. Along with drawing comics for their day job, Rebecca also loves drawing webcomics in their free time. They are particularly passionate about sharing their own personal experiences of autism in the form of fun and emotional stories. Outside of drawing and cuddling their cat, Rebecca also loves playing RPGs with friends, going on deep dives into history, and growing vegetables in their humble Bristol garden.

Niamh Garvey is an autistic Irish author. She writes non-fiction books for both autistic adults and children, which are published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. In her free time, Niamh writes fiction stories, reads copious amounts of books, and loves gardening and being in nature. She lives in Cork with her husband and three kids (the human kind, not the goat kind).


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