Interview with Niamh Garvey

Thanks to my newfound emotional support social media site, Mastodon, I connected with Nimah Garvey, an Irish autistic author and nurse, and author of Looking After Your Autistic Self. Nimah was kind enough to chat with me about her book and her experience as an autistic person.

1. First can you share a bit about your background?

I am 36, and I live in Cork, Ireland, with my husband and three daughters. I worked for many years as a nurse, but am currently unable to nurse due to physical disability (auto-immune arthritis and hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). Writing brings me a lot of joy, and fills me with purpose, especially since I became unable to work as a nurse.

I was diagnosed as autistic when I was 34. I had no idea that I was autistic until I began studying for a Diploma in Autism, in order to understand and support my daughter’s autism. As I sat through the lectures, it began to dawn on me that I had all the autistic traits that the lecturers were teaching us about. The difference between my autistic daughter and I, was that I had learnt how to repress and hide my traits. I gradually learnt that being able to hide my autistic traits did not make me any less autistic.

I am the kind of person that wants hard facts about everything, so it was important to me to get assessed and have my suspicions confirmed. I was relieved to learn that I am autistic, as it has helped me to understand myself at a whole new level.

When not in the throes of parenting, I spend a lot of time writing, reading, listening to audiobooks, immersing myself in nature, and gardening.

2. How did you come up with Looking After Your Autistic Self?

I have enjoyed creative writing as a hobby for years, but had never considered writing a non-fiction book. When a lecturer in the Autism Diploma paused the lecture one day, and told me that I should  write a book of strategies for autistic people, I was totally taken aback. I didn’t think that I was qualified to write a book for autistic readers; I felt like an amateur autistic person as I was so recently diagnosed.

But the more I reflected on it, the more I realised that I had been autistic since the day I was born, and was as autistic as the next autistic person. I had been developing strategies and asking questions since I was a child, and had spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how to support myself. I decided that if I shared what strategies help me, then it might help other people learn how to support themselves.

I also thought writing this book might help non-autistic people to understand more about what it means to be autistic. Through my nursing training, I was acutely aware that many autistic people have an intellectual disability that reduces their capacity to explain their wants and needs to other people. As an adult without an intellectual disability, I hope that my insights and experiences will further the knowledge of carers, loved ones and professionals working with autistic adults who do not have that capacity.

3. What do you hope your readers will get from your book?

Learning how to self-regulate has hugely improved my own well-being and mental health, and the ultimate goal of this book is to help readers learn to self-regulate too. The main three areas I cover in this book are identifying and managing your sensory system, emotional regulation and well-being. I share a lot of evidence-based information, and then guide the reader through personalising the supportive strategies to themselves.

4. What do you wish people knew about autism/being autistic?

Firstly, a lot of society holds outdated ideas about what it means to be autistic. Some people think that because they once met one autistic people with a very significant intellectual disability, then any other adults couldn’t possibly be autistic if they have a job, or a qualification, or do not have an intellectual disability, or are married, or can talk etc.  Autistic people, like non-autistic, all vary in our skills and ability to communicate, and in how we act and think.

A lot of people form their ideas of what it means to be autistic from watching movies or TV programmes, where the autistic character is a genius with no social skills whatsoever, a monotone voice, and no ability to see things from anyone else’s perspective. Thankfully this stereotyped media portrayal is changing, partly due to some of the amazing autistic writers who are writing books with autistic main characters. Examples include Elle Mc Nicholl’s children’s book “A kind of Spark” which has now been made into a BBC TV show, and is being highly praised for its portrayal of autistic people. Holly Smale’s best selling young adult book series “Geek Girl” also revolves around an autistic main character, and is to be made into a Netflix show.

The second thing I wish more people knew about being autistic, is that autism doesn’t always mean distress, and should not be measured by distress. Autism can bring a person as many strengths as it can bring challenges. When autistic people are understood, supported, and are able to regulate ourselves, we can live very happy fulfilled lives.

5. How can non-autistics support their autistic loved ones better?

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to start learning about what it means to be autistic from autistic people themselves. A lot of information about autism is outdated, ableist, misproven, or is not written, or approved of, by autistic people. I’m not saying that all information about autism needs to be written by autistic people, but it does help when organisations and publications use the perspectives, expertise and lived-experiences of actually autistic people.

Once you start to understand autism, you will realise that it is okay to be autistic. In fact, I frequently celebrate being autistic. My autism gives me a beautiful ability to focus intensely on something I am deeply interested in, and allows me to feel immense joy through my whole body. I can connect with nature in a visceral way, and get huge pleasure out of my special interests.

6. Do you have any other projects coming up?

I am working on another book for autistic people, but it is early days yet and I am not ready to announce anything yet!

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.


This easy-to-read and engaging book describes why autistic adults find sensory and emotional well-being difficult to attain. They will resonate with these explanations, and the self-care recommendations will improve their quality of life. Family members, psychologists, and occupational therapists will also benefit from the insights and strategies.

Tony Attwood

Niamh’s opening words tell us that life as an adult is hard and then proceeds to tell us numerous different ways to make it easier. This is a truly fantastic book full of ideas and strategies delivered in an entirely autistic way. It’s so logical, you will wonder why you didn’t think of it before. Brilliant.

Sarah Hendrickx, author of Women and Girls on the Autism Spectrum

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.

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