"The best thing you can be is yourself": Frankie's World author Aoife Dooley on being diagnosed with autism as an adult

Published on: 12 January 2022

Author Aoife Dooley talks about the sense of relief that came with her autism diagnosis as an adult, and how she hopes her graphic novel Frankie's World will help neurodivergent children embrace who they are.

Throughout my life I never considered the fact that I could be Autistic - mainly due to how I’d seen Autism represented in media. It just never occurred to me for a second, but one thing I knew for certain was that I was different. I behaved differently to others around me. I walked funny, I talked funny, amongst other things. There were certain words I couldn’t pronounce; a teacher asking me to read a section from a book out loud was one of my biggest fears. Anything I felt I was bad at I tried to hide.

I hid all my difference because I felt ashamed (not because I was different, but because of how others treated me for being different).

Girls learn to mask when they’re young and try to blend in with their peers. I went from playing with my beloved Street Sharks and Biker Mice to playing with Bratz dolls in a heartbeat. I didn’t have any particular interest in them but I knew that everyone else did and that meant that we could share something in common. Masking is exhausting as you are essentially acting all the time and most of the time you don’t even realise. This often burned me out and I would sleep a lot and take naps. Most people couldn’t understand why I was so tired all the time.

When I look back all the signs were there, but in Ireland in the late 90’s and early 00’s a lot of people believed that girls and women couldn’t be autistic, so a lot of us went under the radar. At the time I was unaware I was masking and this is something that followed me right up until the day I got my diagnosis (and for a few years after if I’m being honest) because I had to learn who I was and what I actually liked as opposed to what I was pretending to like just to fit in. I had masked for so many years at this stage that I really didn’t know who I was, I kind of felt like a chameleon hiding not just from others, but myself.

It was a long road to try and discover parts of myself I had buried deep and still, now nearly four years on I’m still finding things. But I’m happy to be rediscovering myself.

I liked most things any other teenager did. I found comfort in listening to rock music drawing in my room and writing stories. I loved playing video games too, particularly Pokemon and Super Mario. I enjoyed my own company. I found comfort in a world I created for myself rather than the one I was living in because the world could be too much at times.

I found that others found me odd and singled me out a lot. Unfortunately this is quite common amongst others on the spectrum along with other disabilities.

This is why I wanted to write Frankie’s World: to celebrate our differences. I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of who they are.

It takes great strength and courage to be yourself, but it also takes the kindness and understanding from others too. I think this is something we can all learn from. It took me a long time to realise it’s ok to be different.

In the past couple of years I’ve have seen some amazing books come out from a number of Neurodivergent authors which is such a brilliant thing. This will only help kids to see that there are others out there just like them. I feel like this was something I was missing in my childhood and because of this I actually felt quite lonely. I didn’t relate to most of the characters in the books I read, I never really seemed to come across anyone who was Autistic like me.

Writing Frankies World felt like giving a hug to my younger self and I hope that it helps even at least one kid feel less alone and embrace who they are, because the best thing you can be in this world is yourself.

Follow Aoife on Twitter

Check out our list of the best children's books about autism

You might also like...

A different sort of normal (and proud): What it’s like to get an autism diagnosis at 33

Author and illustrator Abigail Balfe has written A Different Sort of Normal, a true story of ‘growing-up-autistic-and-not-knowing-I-was-autistic’. Here’s why she feels she can finally accept herself – and she wants every child out there to feel the same.

"I write about anything and everything, but I always write about neurodiversity": Elle McNicoll on being a neurodivergent author

Elle McNicoll, author of A Kind of Spark, is used to people telling her they don't even know what neurodivergent means - but as a neurodivergent author herself, she understands exactly how important it is for children to see themselves positively represented in stories.

'Every person with autism is unique': why this dad made a book about his daughter

Yes, Kyra has autism, but she is also like lots of other four year olds: she loves ice cream and jumping but doesn't like vegetables! Her dad tells us why he wrote a children's book all about his little girl.

Disability and books

Looking for information on disability and children's books? Bookmark is full of advice and book recommendations for families, teachers, librarians, authors and publishers. 

Have a look