'It's the first day of living the rest of my life without hiding behind a mask' - Artist (27) diagnosed with autism last month
"Most people at first glance see me as someone outgoing, friendly, quirky, funny and maybe even a little odd at times. They see someone successful, someone finding their way in the world and making their stamp on it.
"Most people see me as an illustrator, graphic designer, author and comedian amongst other things, but most people don't see me. Most people will never see me."
These are the words of Aoife Dooley, a 27-year-old who was recently diagnosed with autism. Aoife is the author of the popular book 'How to be Massive' and 'How to Deal with Poxes', depicting the illustrated fictional character of 'your one Nikita'. Nikita is a typical Dublin girl, with both books displaying how-to's on being a 'hun' like Nikita.
But behind the humorous and relatable illustrations, as well as her comedy gigs, Aoife felt she had been "wearing a mask" her whole life.
"It was only about two months ago that I was talking to a friend of mine who was assessed and found out he's autistic. He told me to try out one of the online tests - even though we're friends it never occurred to me I was autistic myself," she told Independent.ie.
"I began watching documentaries, reading articles and trying to find out about women on the spectrum. I took a few online tests before I decided to book an assessment. The HSE doesn’t diagnose adults and going private is expensive.
"After a couple of online tests I thought, 'there's something a bit off here'. So I booked an assessment and they came out to the house, we talked for two hours and they gave me some initial feedback."
When Aoife found out she has high functioning autism she described it as "a darkness or a brick" being lifted off her heart.
Growing up, Aoife immersed herself in her hobbies - drawing and music. She was bullied and teased by children in her school, something that continued throughout her years in education. She explains how she always felt misunderstood, but never knew the reasoning behind it.
"All throughout my life I was corrected on how to speak, how to act, how to behave like other children and people my age until I eventually just started doing that to make life easier for everyone else around me. I was frustrated, angry and alone and things only seemed to get worse and worse by the time I got to secondary school.
"Still to this day, having and maintaining friends is a mystery to me, it's like reading a can of foreign Fanta on holidays, haven't a clue what the thing says. I don't understand how friendship works."
Since sharing her story on Twitter, Aoife says she's received hundreds of messages from adults in similar situations. She decided to share her story, in the hope that it would help someone feeling the way she did to get it checked out.
"It's who I've always been, I'm no different to who I was before, I'll always be me. There are pros and cons. The cons are [not] keeping friends and social situations.
"But then the positives are that I was able to write a book in five weeks, win an award after one month of doing comedy, and tune a guitar before I learnt to play. I've been able to achieve all of these things due to my super focus and making my work my special interest.
"This is the first day of living the rest of my life without hiding behind a mask. This is me, I finally found myself."