All My Stripes (2015, Magination Press). Photo by Travis Langley, of book cover.
Source: All My Stripes (2015, Magination Press). Photo by Travis Langley, of book cover.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders can feel different and alienated without understanding why and without being understood. The children's book All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism by authors Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, depicts a young zebra who worries that his "autism stripe" makes him stand out from his peers. Young Zane's mother helps him see that every stripe he bears helps make him the special individual that he is.

The latter part of the book includes a reading guide that addresses specific challenges and strengths found in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, followed by a "Note to Parents and Caregivers" that provides additional information and tips about finding support. The American Psychological Association published All My Stripes through Magination Press.

I highly recommend this fascinating book. Read it! Love it! Share it!

Even if you do not directly have someone on the autism spectrum in your life, this can help anyone better understand and empathize. Autistic individuals and the people who are in their lives all need understanding and respect. The book is interesting, meaningful, touching, and frankly quite inspiring. The story features an adorable little anthropomorphic zebra that I would love to see again. For Psychology Today, I asked the authors about their experiences writing All My Stripes and why they needed to tell this tale.

Q: First, tell us about yourselves. What are your backgrounds?

Rudolph: I spent my childhood in Vineland, New Jersey, and moved to Los Angeles after college.  My bachelor’s degree is in elementary education and psychology.  I obtained my master’s degree in education with a specialization in reading. 

Royer: I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and moved to Boulder, Colorado, for university in 2006. My degree is in speech, language, and hearing sciences. I have been in the field of education since, I feel, middle school. Every job, volunteer experience, and internship I have ever held has led me to where I am in my career.

Rudolph:  I have enjoyed teaching elementary students for the last 10 years.  It has been a fulfilling and rewarding experience on a daily basis.  My students have taught me just as much as I have taught them.

Royer: Education is such a critical component of what shapes us as human beings, and I remember having a few wonderful role models through my schooling. I always hoped to “grow up” to be a mentor and grounding force like I was so lucky to have.  Working in the field of education has allowed me to help children begin to reach their full potential, especially ones who have experienced a lot of failure. Feeling this kind of fulfillment is something every child deserves.

Q: How did you come to write this book?

Rudolph: Writing this book has become a dream come true.  Danielle and I decided it would be a great idea to create a relatable character with autism. Zane came to life in our minds and hearts and we were compelled to share his story and reach as many people as possible in order to make a difference in their lives.

Royer:  My little brother has autism. There is an 11-year age difference between us, so I have watched him grow up. Almost all of the scenarios Zane encounters in All My Stripes are real life situations that my brother endured. I watched as he struggled to be understood by his teachers and peers because his reactions and ideas did not fall within the realm of “normal.” All My Stripes is a product of the experiences Shaina and I have had with children on the autism spectrum, and we felt that it was crucial to give these children a hero to which they could relate. 

Q: Why did you write this book? 

Royer: Books are keys to so many locked doors, especially for children. They can give perspective, something to relate to, and provoke feelings you’ve never felt before. Plus, children remember stories. We wanted a story that allowed children on the autism spectrum to stay connected to the concept that we are all unique in our own ways, even on their darkest days. I really hope that on a hard day, a child with autism whispers to him/herself, “Zane did it, and I can do it too!” 

Rudolph: I believe it is so important for all children to have a role model that they can look up to and emulate.  We created Zane to be a character who conquers his fears of being different, educates others on his strengths and abilities, and validates the experiences so many children and parents are going through on a daily basis. I feel that Zane has the power to positively impact children with autism and those who feel different from their peers.  In addition, this book can be used as an educational tool for students and families who are impacted by autism.

Q: Zane is adorable.  The two of you in collaboration together have created a character we, your readers, can really care about.  Collaboration can be a tricky thing, though. It can play to each creator's strengths, but it can also slow things down when you each have to take turns waiting for the other. How did the collaboration work? What was that process like?

Rudolph: Collaboration can be difficult. However, we were able to work well together. Fortunately, we shared the same goals, which made it easier to come up with cohesive ideas.  

Royer: Shaina and I were extremely lucky because our belief in the project superseded any pettiness that could potentially arise, especially between friends, when tackling something like this.  Our vision was essentially the same, so we used the collaboration as more of a tool to bounce ideas off one another, whether it was word-choice or visualizing the story. 

Rudolph: Throughout the process, we would meet at different coffee shops around LA where we came up with cohesive concepts, reviewed and edited drafts, and thrilled to page after page of the amazing artwork.  

Royer: We would meet on the weekends at coffee shops and brainstorm, make changes, and really mold this into exactly what we were looking to teach if we were to use this book in our own classrooms.

Rudolph: The journey of finding a publisher was challenging, but Magination Press has surpassed our expectations.  More than anything, however, the appreciation we have received from families with children diagnosed with autism has made all of the time and energy we put into the book worth it! 

Royer: The process of getting it into the right hands was long but worth the wait when Magination Press came into the picture.  They made our dream a reality, and we are elated with how the final product turned out.

Rudolph:  Also, many thanks to my husband, David, for his constant encouragement and support throughout this process.

Q: You're writing about a character on the autistic spectrum.  When you talk to people about your book, do you ever find yourselves having to explain what autism really is?

Rudolph: I do not really find myself explaining autism to others. Autism awareness has become more prevalent because of the rise of autism in the nation.  Everyone has been very receptive of Zane’s journey because it teaches understanding and helps explain what a day in the life of someone with autism may be like. 

Royer: I have not found myself explaining what autism is to adults. I actually see a sense of relief in their faces because they feel they now have a tool to explain autism to their children, whether they are on the spectrum or “typically developing.” One in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, so awareness and acceptance is becoming increasingly critical to help integrate this rising population into our society.  We really hope the book is used as a tool for teaching empathy, compassion, acceptance, and awareness so that we may begin to guide the youth of our future away from stereotypes and stigmas.

Q: What does the autism spectrum mean to you?

Rudolph: The autism spectrum is complex and every child is unique. It affects verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and how a person perceives their environment

Royer: The autism spectrum means thinking outside of the box to cultivate a type of awareness and acceptance that does not involve sympathy or avoidance. It means accepting people because they are people, and understanding that everyone is different. If we begin to accept people on the autism spectrum for who they are, we will open up so many doors to all the unique gifts they can offer.

Rudolph: Every person on the spectrum has something to offer, so spreading autism awareness is key.

Q: How does it feel when someone like Stan Lee praises your book?

Rudolph: In a word—special.  Having the support of a creative genius like Stan Lee is—marvelous!

Royer: Every person on the spectrum has something to offer, so spreading autism awareness is key.

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