I am autistic, and I could not be more proud of that.
I was born in a time that autism was hardly recognized at all, let alone recognized in girls who are hyperlexic and extremely talkative. In the 2020s, most people would hear their pediatrician say “your daughter is not bonded to you” and immediately think of autism. But in the 1980s, when my mom heard those words, her only thoughts were about disappointment and failure.
A part of me is glad I didn’t know the real reason until much later. I always felt that I was different from my peers, especially from my highly social older sister. I had an inkling that basic tasks and processing were harder for me than people my age, but didn’t want to complain too much and be accused of self pity. I spent decades struggling through social situations and keeping my life organized. But, finally receiving my diagnosis made it all feel worth it. I think the same is true for my mom, who is now my best friend. (How’s that for not bonded?)
Figuring it out
It took me providing music therapy for autistic children and teens for several years, and wondering why rapport came so much more naturally in these relationships than my “real life” ones, for me to begin to suspect anything. I took pride in my excellent skills as a therapist that helped me to “read people” so well in my work. I’ve often been able to guess why a client was edging toward a meltdown, what minuscule stimuli was distracting them, or what made certain tasks so challenging for them.
But it wasn’t necessarily my skills. It came naturally to me, because these clients’ experiences subconsciously reminded me of my own. Thanks to what researchers describe as the “double empathy problem,” I was able to “read minds” for the first time in my life, the same way that neurotypical people are able to do for each other all the time. In other words, I had found my people.
Owning the label
After a lifetime of quiet shame about not living up to my potential, feeling awkward in social situations, and struggling with my working memory, owning the label “autistic” makes me feel empowered. I know now that I don’t have to be ashamed of these things, because there isn’t something “wrong” with me; I’m just different. And in addition to those things that I struggle with, my autism comes along with unique skills. I’m super good at pattern recognition (in the 99th percentile, according to my diagnostic test!), I memorize things quickly (very helpful for learning new songs as a music therapist), and I notice tiny details that my neurotypical peers might not.
Most importantly, my own autism helps me meet my autistic clients where they are, and help them feel seen. It doesn’t take extra work to put myself in their shoes – I’m already in them! I love the fact that I not only easily relate to my clients, but I could also be a role model for them. Despite the struggles that come along with autism, I found the help I needed and figured out my own path. I am an autistic therapist, autistic business owner, and an autistic success story.
We need your support
This message, though, is just as important for neurotypical people as it is for their autistic children or family members. I am proof that empathetic friends and family, accommodations, and patience are necessary for neurodivergent individuals to succeed. Neurodivergent people are not a burden, and accommodations don’t need to be, either. In fact, they are highly worthwhile. When we have the support we need, we have so much to offer.
Brooke is a board-certified music therapist and co-founder of NeuroMotif Music Therapy. She has been practicing music therapy since 2011 and was officially diagnosed with autism in 2022. For more information, check out About Us.
Want an autistic therapist’s perspective? Send Brooke your questions on the Contact page!
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