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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Aubin, LCSW

“I am a normal zebra, not a broken horse.”



Autistic therapist autism therapy online california

The analogy of being a “normal” zebra, not a broken horse gets brought up in autism-centered discourse often. A lot of us late-diagnosed folks grew up unaware that we were autistic and felt like we were just broken or misfits. Finding out we were zebras and that there were other zebras and zebra-culture all along can be life changing. We finally see that we were “normal” all along, just “normal” autistic people. 


It is not lost on me that learning you are autistic can be life-saving. When I think back to the decades I lived as an undiagnosed and unaware autistic person, I mostly see someone in extreme pain. Someone who became obsessed with psychology, anthropology, and sociology as a child because I didn’t understand human beings and I didn’t understand why I didn’t understand. I thought I was broken and I spent most of my energy and time trying to cover it up and overcompensate. 


In many ways I feel lucky, though. I feel lucky that I figured out I was autistic when I did, even if I was already in my 30’s. I feel fortunate that I am able to guide my two autistic children with the knowledge I have now. And that I have a job where I can spend every day working with late-diagnosed autistic folks helping them live a life that works for them and their neurotype. I get to help folks learn that they were just “normal” zebras all along.


I don’t mean to paint autism as a simple difference and nothing more. We still live in a horse-privileged society where people see stripes as a “disorder” to be cured or, at best, masked and quietly managed. Being autistic is difficult on many levels. Those of us who learned we were autistic in adulthood, we didn’t grow up knowing we were autistic and we are just now connecting with the autistic community. It’s hard not to feel like an outsider. 


For me, connecting with the autistic community has helped me heal the deep wounds of being an outsider my entire life. Reading books like Strong Female Character by Fern Brady remind me that no matter how complex, lonely, and exhausting my brain is, there are others out there with similar brains. And that we grew up feeling like the people we met had a common WhatsApp group that we were never in, that we were missing something fundamental that most people seemed to have. Even if I ultimately have to deal with my brain alone, it is nice to know that others are also dealing with this level of complexity and divergence from the “norm.” 


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