A TEENAGE Cork author will be at a signing event in Waterstones on Patrick St tomorrow and hopes buyers for her first work will both enjoy and learn from it.
Jessica Griffin’s comic, One Piece Missing: On the Road, has been out since the start of the year and is proving popular both with people on the autism spectrum and others who want to learn more about the condition.
Jessica, who is currently in sixth year at Cork Life Centre, has Asperger syndrome. She wrote and drew the comic in part because she would have loved to have something like it available when she was first diagnosed.
“When I was younger there wasn’t a lot of people, role models, for me to look up to when it came to having autism,” she explains.
“I wanted to help people who have it and we thought a comic could be a good way to do it.
“I want to help people who have autism, to know they’re not alone.”
Jessica feels it is very important for people who have autism to see people like themselves in books and other media.
She likens it to the current drive to ensure films and TV shows offer confident and inspirational female role models and how beneficial that is for young girls, to have women’s success in various fields highlighted.
“I want people to know that, yeah, autism has its weird moments, where you’re not sure what to do. But it is better to accept it instead of trying to hide it or suppress it.”
The reaction she has received so far from young people with autism has shown she was right that there was a gap in the media.
“Recently a 14-year old got the book and he is on the spectrum,” Jessica says.
“He said it felt like I was inside his head, that he could relate a lot to the character and what I was talking about in the book.”
Her hope is that the comic, which is just the first in a planned series, offers people on the spectrum the feeling of ‘Oh, I’m not the only one’.
But it is not only people with autism who are reading it, which was something Jessica also had in mind from the start.
“When I got older I got frustrated that I kept having to explain autism, really every day I was explaining it,” she says.
“Eventually I said to dad that I wanted to teach people about it.”
The feedback from this audience has also been excellent.
“We have had a couple of teachers pick up the book because they want to see what a students point of view is and see if they can potentially help,” Jessica says.
“A few people have said they are delighted and parents have said they are happy with the book because it helps them understand what might be going on in their child’s mind.
“My mum and dad had to try very hard to get information when I was diagnosed. They had to go a long way to get some of the information they need. Parents will always appreciate a little spotlight they can turn to to get more information on everyday aspects [of life with autism].”
Jessica is currently combining her study with work on the second in the series, which she hopes to complete in the summer. She plans to continue her art through further study in animation and says Asperger’s brings its own challenges when it comes to work and art.
“Drawing the book was a really funny ordeal on my part,” she laughs.
“I really love art, so its not like I don’t like drawing. I love drawing all the time anyway, it was more about trying to focus on that project instead of doing 15 other projects at the same time!”
For Jessica, this is the main driver behind her work, to showcase how autism can be embraced and accepted for what it offers to people, rather than be seen as something to be suppressed or managed.
She says that, following a difficult period after her diagnosis, her experience of life with autism changed the ‘moment I started accepting the autism, using it as an advantage, rather than seeing it as a weakness’.
“The things that come with my autism, like being obsessive, they can be really good quirks to use as an advantage and to help develop,” she says.
“If you work with it, you will be surprised what it can help you do.”
Book signing with Jessica in Waterstones. Patrick St, tomorrow, 3pm to 5pm.