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Episode 45: The Creative Sides of Autism + Advocacy Through Art [featuring Bret Malley]

Mar 14, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

Creativity is a medium of expression and connection that often works well for neurodivergent individuals.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, are joined by Bret Malley, filmmaker, professor, late-in-life diagnosed Autistic person, and father of an Autistic son, for an enriching conversation that explores the intersection of autism and creativity. 

Bret shares his journey of autism advocacy, inspired by the desire to support his son, using creative outlets, as well as shares his process and inspiration for creating a documentary that seeks to provide a more authentic understanding of autism, reflecting on the creative process and the balance of vulnerability and representation that comes with such a responsibility.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Understand the importance of presence and how creative endeavors can help individuals, particularly those with autism and ADHD, to feel more connected and alive amidst the struggles of an overactive mind or an uncooperative body.
  2. Learn about the role that environmental factors can play for Autistic individuals in the ability to concentrate and be present in work, as well as the benefits of creating a designated space and time to dedicate to entering a zone of hyperfocused creativity (or the “vortex” as described by Megan Anna).
  3. Identify how from the devastation of the pandemic there was also a rise in virtual engagements that fostered unexpected creative synergies and closer relationships.

Creativity and art can be powerful means for autism advocacy and personal expression. We encourage you to think about the ways your creative expression can affect how you connect with the world around you, as well as lead to more compassion and understanding.

More about Bret Malley:

Bret Malley is an award-winning filmmaker as well as a full-time career and technical educator, professional photographer, and author of Adobe Master Class; Advanced Compositing in Adobe Photoshop CC. His visual work and articles have been featured internationally in magazines and publications such as Photoshop User, Advanced Photoshop magazine, Photoshop Creative magazine, and Photography is Art magazine among others. He is a full-time college professor in Visual Communications and Multimedia Arts at Chemeketa Community College and teaches a range of classes and topics including animation, motion graphics, filmmaking, photography, sound design, augmented and virtual reality, emerging media, and various creative software and tools.

With an MFA in Computer Art from Syracuse University, and a BA in Film and Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz, Bret has been a return guest on KelbyOne’s The Grid, is a regular expert on Photobacks TV (PixelU), and also speaks at national live events and teaches various online classes (through CreativeLive, KelbyOne, and Craftsy). Whenever he is not teaching, leading international photography tours (through Craftours), working on films, creating personal works, or out adventuring around Oregon with his wife, Erin, and son, Kellen, Bret is also squeezing in commercial work across the US.

In addition to immersing himself in the world of digital imagery, Bret Malley has won various accolades as a filmmaker, animator, composer, and documentarian—working in social justice themes of global and regional import. He is most known for his feature film Greenwashers (2011). See more of Bret’s work at www.BretMalley.com.

Resources:

Check out Dr. Neff’s new book, Self-Care for Autistic People, here to learn more about the book: neurodivergentinsights.com/self-care-for-autistic-people

Join the Neurodivergent Insights newsletter to take advantage of the pre-order special: newsletter.neurodivergentinsights.com/self-care (Available throughout the month of March 2024)

Use this coupon code to get a discount on Neurodivergent Insights Workbooks and contribute to the Divergent Gift documentary: Use coupon code: “DivergentGift” at Neurodivergent Insights to receive a 25% discount on your purchases. More importantly, using this code ensures that 20% of your purchase directly supports the film’s production.

 


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Transcript

PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone. You are listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast. We are two neurodivergent mental health professionals in a neurotypical world. I'm Patrick Casale.

MEGAN NEFF: And I'm Dr. Neff.

PATRICK CASALE: And during these episodes, we do talk about sensitive subjects, mental health, and there are some conversations that can certainly feel a bit overwhelming. So, we do just want to use that disclosure and disclaimer before jumping in. And thanks for listening.

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The beauty of podcast sponsorship is that you can get live, pre-roll, or mid-roll opportunities where we will read your ad on air while recording, getting you in front of a new audience every single week. You have the opportunity to sponsor one month of episodes at a time where you'll get four episodes in total or you can sponsor an entire year and be the exclusive sponsor of Divergent Conversations.

This is a podcast that's being distributed all over the world. The analytics are fantastic. The podcast is growing. And it is a very captive audience. Reach out to us directly via the link in our website at divergentpod.com or email us at [email protected], and we can get started on your sponsorship journey.

MEGAN NEFF: Am I opening us today, Patrick? I think I am. You're on mute. Hi.

PATRICK CASALE: This is always the moment where I like look at Megan, Megan looks at me. I'm like, "Megan, we just said you were going to introduce the guests." And then Megan looks back at me and smiles. And I'm like…

BRET MALLEY: We could flip it around, I could introduce you, too.

MEGAN NEFF: Hot potato. Yeah, Bret can just introduce himself. No does it-

BRET MALLEY: [CROSSTALK 00:01:54].

MEGAN NEFF: Welcome to Divergent… Actually, that would be amazing.

No, I feel like it's like the hot potato. I always feel like this in a group conversation. And I'm always if I have the hot potato, it's like, "Okay, how do I pass it to someone else? I don't want the hot potato."

Okay, so I have the hot potato. I'm introducing Bret today. I'm so excited for this conversation. Bret, I just asked you, Malley?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, Malley. Yeah, you got it, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, Bret Malley. So, I don't really do formal bios very well. I like to share the context of how I came to know you. So, I'll share that. And then if there's other pertinent things to share about your context, please do.

We met because… actually, someone in my community linked to your documentary. And they were like, "Dr. Neff, I think you'd be great for this. You should reach out to them."

And I reached out to you and you emailed right away. And I learned about your documentary, you're making about autism. And it's beautiful. And I got so excited.

And we've kind of done some collaboration around your upcoming documentary. But I also went to your website and learned that you're like a very creative photographer, artist. Like diagnosed adult, parent like me.

And so, we're doing a miniseries on what is autism. So, bringing you on today to talk about autism and creativity just felt like a really natural extension of the work you're doing in the world. Oh, and you're a professor at PSU here in Oregon.

BRET MALLEY: Chemeketa, but yes.

MEGAN NEFF: Chemeketa, yes. I knew that, I knew that. See, this is why I shouldn't go too far into bios.

What other context pieces did I miss about who you are?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I mean, you-

MEGAN NEFF: You know, the important…

BRET MALLEY: …didn't. I'm just, like, creative, yeah, late diagnosed that found a way to talk about my special interests and info dump to people that are literally sitting there captivated. And to go to school for this stuff. So yeah, it makes sense.

So, on the creative side, I'm an author for Adobe Press, Peachpit, Pearson for Adobe compositing, right? Photoshop compositing.

And yeah, I minored in electronic music. So, I do music composition and you know, anything creative, I love doing. Helping my son with all of his creative endeavors that he doesn't have, you know, the skills or technique for things I'm like, "Oh, we can do that." You know? And so, being a creative father, also, is, I guess, an aspect of my creativity as well.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, I love that, like applying it to parenting, being the creative father. I love that idea of assigning creativity to roles, and like how we show up in the roles we occupy.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Hey, Bret-

MEGAN NEFF: So, you-

PATRICK CASALE: …can I ask you a question though before Megan jumps in? We should have started recording. And Megan asked you like, you started going into the origin story of your last name. And I thought that was like a very autistic response. So, do you want to share that too?

BRET MALLEY: Sure, yeah. No, for everything, so my… Here we go, here's an autistic response to describing, an autistic response here.

So, this fall is when I got my diagnosis. And so now me talking in spirals, everything makes more sense. And so now I'm recognizing of, yes, I do get to that point. But I'm going to take people on a journey.

So, Megan Anna when you asked about how do you pronounce your last name, Malley? And actually, my grandfather came from Syria to go to school in the US. They needed something that sounded more American, because of discrimination, and a number of, you know, things at the time. And so they settled on Malley which sounded close enough to, which was salts in Arabic, and how that was pronounced in Arabic. They were like, "Okay, this is close enough."

And so now Malley. And since I look so… and I'm so Caucasian. People are like, "Oh, it's just Irish, your O'Malley." I'm like, "Sure, yeah." So, there's the answer, Malley came from, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Can I ask? Because I can, like, articulate this from my experience. I'm curious for both of you. For me, like, I was doing something similar. I was in a call with someone, we were meeting. They're an ADHDer and autistic. And it was my first time meeting with them. And I felt like I kept name-dropping. But what I was doing is I was, if I was going to introduce an idea, I had to share the context where the idea came from, because I can't just be like, "Oh, there's this idea."

It's like, "Well, I was talking to this person." And then halfway through, I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, it sounds like I'm name-dropping right now." But I'm wanting to share the context of the idea, because ideas live in context.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, that's right.

MEGAN NEFF: So, like, for you is it like your last name is like, well, yeah, but it lives in this context of, like, everything you just shared?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, it's every… Again, this is all maybe part of the creativity thing. But everything feels like it has its own little story, its own little journey. This is a side tangent, but we're trying to get my mom to come up here. And she's building a house next to us. And so in her working with a builder, describing the door she wants, she'll give a whole journey of the why, and then like, "No, just how many doors." And she can't.

And so, it's relatable and accommodated within our family, because that's always kind of how we've journeyed and talking about things with these stories of context.

PATRICK CASALE: I know we are going to talk about your documentary, because I think that's a big part of creativity. And I listened to you the other day where there was like a Samwise Gamgee reference, I think, Lord of the Rings style, any chance your mom decided to choose a door that looked like Hobbit hole house, that would be really cool.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, so obviously, you know, my family, you know, steeped in lots of fantasy, Lord of the Rings, all of that, and fantasy fiction.

Yeah, the Hobbit aesthetic is you have no, no idea how close to the aesthetic of my mother that all of that is. So, the most that she can get the builders to do is at least a Dutch door that's going to be custom. So, it's going to have… I mean, she has stairs right now in our little cabin in the woods that are like staggered. They're not just stairs, because it's too steep. And so everything is, yeah, quite fantastical. There's a name for it, dopo décor, for, literally, you surround yourself in these things that make you feel good as you're looking around things and that's-

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, like dopamine, dopamine décor?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh.

BRET MALLEY: I think you've said it right. Yeah décor-

MEGAN NEFF: I've never heard that before, I love it.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, she looked it up. She's like, "Oh, that's literally my thing." Yeah, I have a pitchfork from my great grandmother from, you know, on the wall, and all these things that for her really make her feel good. You know, like, plants and things, so…

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I mean, look behind me. That's my entire existence. And I don't know if I was reading Megan's face accurately because I saw you smiling, like, as he was speaking, and I was like, "Oh, man, I'm getting so excited about this Lord of the Rings thing, and I don't want to diverge too much."

I did meet the actor who played Sauron on Lord of the Rings, by the way, had brunch with him, went out to drinks with him in Portugal. It was amazing.

BRET MALLEY: Oh, wow.

PATRICK CASALE: Anyway, circling back, context, Megan, what you were just saying. It happened to me last night.

So, I was out with my wife for dinner. I started telling a story about, we're hiring one of our interns. And really, the context was like, I'm so excited about how people who are interning at our group practice are staying on to work full-time. But I just lead with like, "We're hiring an intern. And that's really cool."

And she was like, "Why are you telling me this?" And I was like, "Okay, context. The context is, this is really exciting to me that people who are interning with us feel so supported that they want to stay." And she was like, "Next time start with that." I'm like, "I never will. That will never happen."

MEGAN NEFF: Like, how will my brain know to start there?

PATRICK CASALE: I'll get there. But how do I know to start there? That's the real question. Anyway, let's carry on.

BRET MALLEY: Well, I love that because, you know, in teaching at the college level I can, and this is expected that you give yourself an outline, but it doesn't need to be a verbatim thing. You can just kind of let it flow.

And so I've, again, found this career where I know what I'm going to talk about. Every single time that I do this lecture it is going to be different. And I'll take students on a slightly different journey. We'll get the content, but maybe it's because the class there, you know, the audience also changes it too. So, it changes where I know that there might be something funny if it's a class that really kind of needs that to relieve tension or other things.

So, I don't know, context, and then also who you're sharing with, at least, for me, changes how it comes out each time, too.

PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely.

MEGAN NEFF: One-

PATRICK CASALE: I'm sorry, go ahead.

MEGAN NEFF: I was just going to say I think one element of creativity is that it's often co-created. And like that's what makes a spark.

Like, Patrick and I were just talking about the kinds of guests that we like having on and what to have more on. I'm not sure if I should be saying this out loud. But we were talking about how important like play is, like playful people, where we can enter that space of, I think, co-created creativity. I think that's part of what you're describing in the classroom is a co-created creativity of like, being able to kind of spark off each other's energy and not by-

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, jamming. Yeah, [CROSSTALK 00:11:47]-

PATRICK CASALE: When people hire me for speaking events, I don't plan anything out. I'm just feeding off of the energy the audience is giving me.

And people will ask me, like, "Can you teach me how to do this thing." And I'm like, "I really can't. Like, I really don't know how to teach you this, because I'm literally just going up there with this idea in my mind, and we're just going to see where it goes."

And for so many people that is so counterintuitive to like any sort of process that they may have. And I love it. I mean, I thrive off of it. Megan's getting-

MEGAN NEFF: Like my anxiety and my body has just got… Like, I have nightmares about that. Like, going up on stage or a presentation and not knowing what I'm going to say.

I'm practicing it. Like I am doing more speaking now. And I'm practicing going in unscripted, but actually, I hadn't made this connection till just now, till we were talking about the context piece. I knew I was someone who scripted a ton, like a ton, a ton, a ton.

Like, I had a very different experience in the classroom, Bret. I would know exactly what I'd say. I would have run through my slides several times.

And I think it's because I do go on so many, like, context rabbit trails. And then I'd be like, "Oh, my gosh, this is ridiculous." And not to the point at all that I would script to like, rein it in. Otherwise, my mind will be all over the place. So, yeah, I do the opposite, I script. I'm practicing not.

PATRICK CASALE: I saw you literally getting, like, shrinking into your screen like this, like uncomfortable when I was talking.

BRET MALLEY: True.

MEGAN NEFF: It really sounds like my worst nightmare to like [CROSSTALK 00:13:22] not just know what I'm going to say.

BRET MALLEY: Here's an in-between, because there's a flip side of when, Megan Anna, that I find that that is way more helpful. And that's when I have an audience or a class. And for whatever reason, just the configuration of personalities and things. And I get nothing, and I cannot read anything, I can't pick up on anything. And when it's that flat, oh, having a script would be so, so helpful.

So, I think for me, when I know the content enough, like forwards and backwards is just who I am, and I get to share what I'm very excited about, then I can let my excitement sort of navigate. And then I'm just excited I get to talk to people that are also interested in this.

But if I don't get any feeling like, "Oh, they…" I go straight to, "Oh, they hate the subject and they hate me. And what am I doing here? And boy I wish I had a script."

And so I could imagine for those moments of when that kind of anxiety kicks in, yeah, I could see the benefit of both for me, depending on either kind of situations.

PATRICK CASALE: It's amazing what one validating head nod can do while you're presenting. You're like, "Oh, okay, let me feed off of that." But if you just see blank stares at you, it's like, "Oh, shit."

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I start oversharing and I'm like, "What am I talking about that's [CROSSTALK 00:14:48]-

PATRICK CASALE: Usually, afterwards, people will come up to me and be like, "That was really great." And you're like, "It was? Like, what's happening here?"

BRET MALLEY: And did you nod?

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah.

BRET MALLEY: No, and I find myself in the audience, I don't know, like when we're getting off there, but nodding because I know that I so appreciate that. And so I look around everyone, you know, no silhouettes are moving. And here's me. I'm like, rocking out. I'm like, "This is what I would want."

And I realized that, you know, back to my mom is she gave so much of that energy of just like, yeah, we're talking about Hobbit stories, you know, or whatever it is. And we would just really get that over expressive, well, you know, perspective wise, of who you're saying that to, and the response. And then that made it so more comfortable to know exactly whether the person is… So, yeah, I fully agree.

MEGAN NEFF: And once you, I think, especially, after if you've been a teacher or a presenter, I think it makes you, like, participate differently. And when you think like, no one can tell you're on your phone, like no, we can tell. And you don't really realize that until you're a teacher or presenter. It's like, it's obvious. And, yeah.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, teaching at Chemeketa, we have a lot of neurodivergent students and that are talking more about autism, ADHD. And so when, you know, it's time to present or do these more sort of traditional, you know, college kind of things in the classroom, really making sure that it's broken down and that they get the support that, right, you know, I wish I had there. So, it's helpful to know it kind of from both sides and to be that support for others, you know, just working through and fostering those kinds of really supportive environments. I think it's kind of empathetic environments are so crucial, I think for learning also and creativity.

Because creative, bringing back to the topic here, that's another really vulnerable topic in a lot of ways. You're sharing very personal, personal things. And so whether you're giving a presentation, or you're showing your artwork, you know, that's putting a piece of yourself out there in some way. And so, it all relates for sure.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, let's pick that up. It's putting yourself out there in a specific way. Because I think I'm so fascinated by this idea of creativity and neurodivergence because I think something that I say a lot, you know, I talk a lot about alexithymia and emotional expression. And something I say a lot is, I think a lot of us need alternative mediums to express our inner worlds or access our inner world.

And I think creativity, whether it's art, poetry, music, I think this is a medium that works for a lot of us. So, yeah, I guess I'm curious to know more. I mean, you have a long history with creativity. Autism is newer to you, as in knowing about it. But like, what role has creativity played in your life? Played in your self-expression? I realize that's a really big, broad, vague question, I apologize.

BRET MALLEY: No, no, it's good. I'll try to keep my spiral a little tighter, let's see. But I have to go back to my school. So, I went to a Waldorf school. That is, basically, I mean, if I was being very reductive, it's a hippie art school, right? The one that I went to, in the countryside. And so creativity is, literally, intrinsic to who I am, an experience, and what I think about, and what I do. It's just what I breathe. Even if it's problem-solving, it's all creative-based.

And so at the school, I was accommodated for, you know, always needing to draw, you know, that was just part of the lesson. Whereas, you know, for my son and his creativity, the way that he imagines, that was not a good fit.

So, for me, that really fostered just a sense of, "Oh, I can just make and that's who I am." So much so that by the time I went to high school, just the public high school, by the end of high school I was, you know, they have the voted most blah, blah, blah, I was voted most artistic or I think they may be [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:55] is the artistic for, even though I never took a art class.

And so all the art teachers are like, "Who is this guy?" At the very end, I took a photography class and I think every time that I got more exposure, it opened up this avenue of expression and joy of when something comes out. For me, whether it was photography, and the alchemy of being in the darkroom, and something that I made is there, and something about that was so powerful. And before that, it was poetry.

Sorry, I hit the mic there. And then, you know, photography, and filmmaking, and music, for me, it all comes from this exact same seed, even though they're all completely different. That feeling of making, and then it's out there, and you can listen to it. And there's just this, I don't know, this connection that is pure joy. When you get something that you're okay with, when you say when to say when on it, if I can listen to it again, or look at the image again, or watch something again, and I get those same feels that I did while making it, then I know I'm like, "Oh, I got something."

So, I don't even know if I got to the point there. But the overall journey started from when I was very, very little. And it's just always been part of who I am, just a maker.

MEGAN NEFF: Can I drop something kind of nerdy? I mean, I don't know why I'm asking permission for that. It's interesting.

So, I was a sociology major. And I actually really loved learning about Karl Marx's like, theory. Like, obviously, we have a lot of ideas of what Karl Marx stood for. But at the core of his theory was this idea of alienation of human nature.

And so one of the things that he was talking about was, you know, we go from this economy where we are the makers. Like, I'm woodworking, I'm making this chair, or I am like, in my farm, I am making it. I'm making it with my neighbors.

And what we do when we make and we create is it's an expression of our human nature. And then with modernity, what happened is we started selling our labor, right? So, then we go to the shop and we're on a conveyor belt. That's not the word for it, but…

BRET MALLEY: Assembling line, yeah, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Assembling line, and we become disconnected from our labor, because we're selling it as a product. And we're no longer expressing our humaneness through our labor.

This idea has, I don't know why… I mean, I learned it when I was like 20. And it has just stuck with me of, we express our human nature through what we create. And that's something that in modern society a lot of us have become disconnected from.

And so I loved what you talk about with making, that you're expressing who you are through what you create, and how powerful that is, how healing that is, how connected to urgency that is. So, yeah, that's my nerdy association for today.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, no. Well, and bring it back to Lord of the Rings, Patrick. You know, so much of my imagination, my world is steeped in fantasy, you know? I don't think I really read, also dyslexic here, until later, and didn't find the joy of reading until Robert Jordan, and then Brandon Sanderson, and so forth for the Wheel of Time, and then that's when it struck. But the imagery of all of that, of the glowing, you know, lights, and just these fantastical forests.

I grew up outside of Yosemite. So, sort of the epic natures and scenes has also been infused with, you know, how do I recreate what I feel? You know, nature kind of represents in, you know, its wonderfully fantastical version. So, you know, fusing that in through my art throughout has been just what I do.

And so, you know, whether it's, you know, very classic fiction, fantasy, or just someone's floating, right? Or making their cat float in the air or something is just, you know, being more than the everyday has been important to capture of what I feel and think about environments, and to represent and share with others, bring other people into my mind photography, right? And that's what I bring back to compositing, specifically, that's what that was.

So, I can take my pictures and I can say, "Okay, I know that we need a leaf in a corner." So, that picture will be good. And I can do this collage of all these puzzle pieces to create the scene that I can bring everybody else into, right? That I could imagine. That's Photoshop, that's really very fun in that way.

MEGAN NEFF: I noticed that about your photography when I looked at it, because like people floating. And you ask what if? Like, there's a magical element to it of like, what if? What is possible?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Dr. Dalton is someone's work I really like. And he joined me for a masterclass on anxiety, and talking about anxiety, and anxiety, and autism, specifically. Something he says that I love is that anxiety and creativity are the flip side of the same coin, because they both ask what if?

PATRICK CASALE: I can relate to that big time, because I feel like as someone who's just anxious all the time, it feels very similar to when I am being creative in a different way.

And Bret, like you mentioned, when we're putting our creations out into the world, there is a vulnerability there. And it creates even some anxiety in terms of like, how is this going to be received, right?

And Megan and I did a miniseries on RSD and how RSD shows up when we're being creative sometimes of like, how's the world going to critique this, or pick this apart, or offer feedback? And that can be really intimidating.

MEGAN NEFF: Especially, if it's us. Like, if we're putting us out there, if it's an expression of us and then it's been critiqued. Oh, it's painful.

BRET MALLEY: So, I have some wonderful and terrible horror stories with this. So, one, you know, I have the opportunity of teaching students for when they first come into our program about how when you're sharing something that, you know, how to help remove or do a buffer, and it's all about, does this communicate as effectively as it could, right? So, we're able to break it down and try to remove it from the personal.

And so that can help, especially, if you're doing, you know, something more graphic design related or something where the intent is communicating something that's not from within, but something outward. So, there's ways to help some of that.

But on the flip side with like getting your master's in fine art, you have a critique, or at least this is my experience, where everyone is spending two hours on just your work, just tearing up every little bit, and you spend a month… So, then it becomes a different level of personal.

And this is why I hear so many that go to get a master's in photography, or fine art, or something and then they can't even touch it. It's so, so intense of an experience that it almost unteaches the passion whether it's music, you know?

My wife has a similar kind of experience with what that did for her. And it's really tragic that society, yeah, that we just have these conforming ways of how things are done because they've been done in the past. And it's sad.

So, bringing it back down to, you know, how to teach it and create an environment of where you can be vulnerable and what this is about, you know, it's such a tricky thing to be creative, to share that. But then people are seeing it, and thinking, and experiencing their own things. And to hear those, yeah, it can be nerve-wracking and terrifying, yeah.

And then with this film, I feel like it's even more so, because it's like, I started learning more. You know, so my son's diagnosis kind of started this journey. And I realized that, oh, this is a minefield. So, not only am I doing something out there creative that I want well received for how it's doing, but this could upset so many other people if I don't do this just right, or I'm not aware. And so you have the layers of how the heck is this going to be received? Or is this going to be helpful for anybody else? Am I, you know, supporting the community in an appropriate way? So, yeah, anyways, layers of freakiness.

MEGAN NEFF: That would really be intimidating and I hadn't thought about that aspect of this is like films on autism have a like pretty mixed track record. And I love that you're just like, dove right in. Diagnosed, okay, let's make a film.

BRET MALLEY: So, back to the creativity thing. So, I had a sabbatical coming up. And so with my son's, Kevin's diagnosis, and then learning more of what this is actually, you know, we got the medical notes of, you know, what this is, and ASD level one. But you know, they throw all these terms. By the way, you should go to the autism speaking all these things. It's just straight from, you know, with the medical model, just, you know, predicates.

And then, you know, digging deeper, I realized with how misunderstood he was, that I needed to create something that helped bring up his voice, helped him bring up his advocacy, his self-advocacy for what people were not getting. Not just like, "Oh, you didn't get it right."

But he was being so misunderstood that we hear all these trauma events from later on for when people were misunderstood. And this happened, and this other thing happened. So, how I need to create something that helps that, that elevates, you know, his experience, and then also brings out all these others that are talking about this as well.

And so when that sabbatical came up, I applied. And it was so intensive a need to make something around this. And it's okay if I came from a place of discovery. I think that's probably helpful. But I was like, "Okay, if they don't support this, I'm not in the right place. Like, I have to make this thing."

And so the college did support it. They are wonderful in providing this full year of me being able to just make a film. But it was a year of research and learning, and really starting from just the medical model, and just the ideas of how drastic it is to unpacking and realizing where my own journey is.

So, it's been from a point of needing to create, and to do something creative with this, and also something that can support not just my son, but all the other people out there that are so misunderstood and feel it so deeply. So, anyways sorry to-

MEGAN NEFF: No.

PATRICK CASALE: No, that's pretty powerful. And like thinking about it, right? Like, you keep referencing, like your learning journey and your experience as well. I don't know how old you are, Bret. But I found out I was autistic at 35, I'm 37. Megan, I think you found out at 37, potentially, if I got the age right.

We have to start somewhere with our learning journey, right? Like, if we're creating this documentary from that lens and that perspective of like going through that journey, you're certainly not alone in that, right? Where we are like, "Oh, I have to learn some language. Oh, I have to, like, step over something I said that I actually came across in a way that I didn't intend to." So, like there's a lot of unlearning and unpacking as well.

And then you mentioned, you know, wanting to make this because of how misunderstood your son is, I say this all the time, but I think that feeling seen or understood is actually the way I receive love in a lot of ways because of how often I have felt misunderstood in my entire lifespan. And I think that that is so freaking powerful.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, that's it. You know, especially, for those that have the privilege of high masking in situations and all these things that for some, or they have, especially, with the history and the evolution some people haven't continued to evolve with it or have been able to keep up with the research, or read latest books. And so even the most well-experienced teachers in art, in wherever have this one idea and it is very… speaking of rigidity, it is a very rigid idea of what autism is, and how it how it presents, and what, you know, characteristics there are, and all that, it's not that.

So, something had to push back. And this is the creative thing that came forward with that very deep need to share this experience that I do think that others are going through either late diagnosis, or just may be curious about themselves or family members. Or maybe went through the pipeline, like I did where your child, and then like, "Oh, okay, let's explore that." Or those that, yeah, have experienced trauma because of what people assumed and how unkind so much of society can be.

So, yeah. How to do something creative from that that's supportive, that's also very authentic, and resonant with other people.

So, yeah. And filmmaking has been something that I took a break from, speaking of just creativity itself. It's been a lot of Photoshop for a number of years.

So, for me with the technology, finally, I feel like at a place that can capture the beauty that I see in a different way. Working with video early on, it couldn't transcend the screen in the same way. But now we have tools between slow motion and, you know, pan and tilt automation, all these things where I can do this whole interview where I have two camera setups, I'm doing this, and sorry, tech is also a special interest of mine. And so I like way nerd out on all of this.

And so harnessing, you know, my special interest in creative ways, I feel like that the tools have changed. And for me, that's been wonderful to be able to harness that and to do something at such a scale with such a small production team most of the times.

MEGAN NEFF: And that's something that really stood out to me. So, I've seen parts of your film. I also don't think we've even like shared the title of your film. I realize we just dove into the context.

I want to make sure I got this right, Divergent Gift: Unboxing Autism? The Divergent Gift-

BRET MALLEY: The Divergent Gift: Unboxing Autism.

MEGAN NEFF: …Unboxing Autism. So, I've seen clips of it. And so then I shared with you I've always… So, you and I have something in common. Patrick, I don't know if you do this or not. But we both think in visuals. So, I've always had a fantasy of being a filmmaker. That is for another life because I don't have the tech background at all.

But when I see a truth or like there's some truth I want to convey, I'll have a, like, visual scene pop into my head. And when I watched parts of your documentary, there's something about how you, like, slow down, and the angles, and I don't know technically what you're doing, but there's texture to it. There's an experience that you convey through your filmmaking that I was like, this is the stuff that's in my head when I'm like capturing a scene in my head. There's just something.

I mean, I don't think autistic people have the monopoly on this but I think there is something about how autistic people create that can usher you into the experience in a really profound way. And I felt that when watching parts of your documentary, which is what was like, "Yes, this is an autistic creation. I can tell, I can feel it."

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I appreciate that. I'm so glad to hear that. And I've been analyzing because I've been hearing that from others as well. And so one of the things that I'm trying to piggyback, asking the why, right? More of why is that?

So, when I flew out to the UK to film, Jordan James, the autistic photographer, which is, he would be a great one to have on as well for creativity, but him doing his sensory experience in nature, in this beautiful morning light, in his favorite woods with, you know, the sunrise, and him hyper focusing, and seeing him be just all in, and on things that you could tell make him feel so good. So, him doing that, I'm like, "That's exactly, I know that feeling."

And then me hyper focusing on capturing that and getting his breath particles of all these things and angles. Okay, let's get the squint on there so you can see. And so this hyper focus of a hyper focus and having this, you know, like the infinite mirror kind of thing.

And so my feeling is that, that has lent itself to be part of the visual language of this in interviewing the subjects and what they're interested in, and in capturing, and feeling that, and then trying to try to capture that.

So, it's been really amazing to make a film, experiencing other people experiencing something that… I mean, this film, basically, is my coming home experience, right? And it's like, someone doing something completely different. And yet, I feel that, right? I get what they're doing. And mine is different. But I know that.

And so trying to capture that and share that, I feel like it's personally important, but I think it's important for others to also see and feel that. So, it's wonderful to bring it back around, it's wonderful to hear your experience of that. Thank you.

MEGAN NEFF: It makes me think of the concept of presence. When you talk about, like, this dual deep focus. Before we hopped on I was reviewing. So, positive psychology talks about creativity a lot, which I love that psychology is starting to talk about creativity.

But one of the things creativity does is help us to be present. And it struck me when I first learned that because I often talk about how hard it is for me to be present. And I'm autistic ADHD. So, I think it's a combination, I think the autistic part struggles to be present, because unless it's a very ideal sensory environment, I'm often dissociated to some degree. And then ADHD just does not want to be present.

But the one place where it's really easy for me to engage and to feel connected to myself, to feel connected to the moment is through creativity.

And so yeah, that's a little bit of a rabbit trail. But I was just thinking about the connection between creativity and presence, and how powerful that could be, particularly, for those of us with brains for whom presence is hard.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Well, that is such an important point. I'm so glad you named that. And I think, you know, Megan and I have talked about this before, but why so many of us get so deeply engrossed in our work, because when you're in that creative flow state you feel so alive. And otherwise, you live in a body that can be kind of hellacious to be in or in a brain that can't slow down. And I think it can just be such a struggle.

So, I know the labels often get thrown around with like perfectionism, or workaholism, or whatever. And it's like, no, this is very different than that.

And I would love to continue to delineate between the two because there's a major difference between like, I love working, and I can't turn it off, and I want to grind and hustle versus like, I want to create, and I want to feel present, and I want to feel connected to what I'm putting out into the world. And I think that's where the magic happens.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I have a couple of thoughts that popped in with that is that is so true, especially, getting into something. But there's also, for me, a flipside is I will get so into it and have an environment where… So, at one level, like you are completely present, like you are experiencing this, and you're capturing that thing or doing whatever the thing. And it feels so wonderful to do that.

And then for those who are on the outside, let's say I start doing a little iPad sketch at night and it's close to bedtime, where I'm supposed to be, you know, the parent, and navigating the time, and the routine. And if I start on that to stop something that I am just so in that moment for is painful and I go… So, the disruption of creativity can be so intense that it's, we call it lizard brain, we just go straight into, you know, I just like, "[INDISCERNIBLE 00:42:35]" It's so intense that it literally takes my brain creativity's there. And then what's left is this, you know, yeah, I still look like that, but I'm not there.

And so I can often get so engrossed into that hyper focus that, yeah, it could be rough for those around me, unless I pick an appropriate time of, you know, after bedtime, or during work hours, or some other things. So, being careful of when I unleash the creativity is something that I found out that I have to be mindful of. Otherwise, it's not fair to everyone else.

MEGAN NEFF: I love this concept of disrupted creativity, and I like have… So, I think, especially, as parents there's a lot of disrupted creativity that happens. So, like, I have so many memories like that rush over me.

I had a thought it flew away. Maybe it'll come back. Disfigured creativity.

BRET MALLEY: That's same with disruptive play, right? It's, you know, looking at, you know, if I disrupt my son when he's creating in his mind, I see the lizard brain come out and like, "[INDISCERNIBLE 00:43:52]." You know, snarl like, I understand that feeling so well, please continue, I'm sorry.

PATRICK CASALE: We talk about like, task and routine disruption, too, right? So, like, if we're in that hyper focus, or that creativity process, and we're really feeling energized to be disrupted from it can, I mean, my instant reaction is like irritability. Irritability, frustration, I'll be very short with whoever has brought me out of that.

I was in that zone before we started recording today. I had to set a alarm here for 12:20 PM. Because I was like, if I do not do this, I'm going to look up and it's going to be 1:00 PM. And I'm going to miss this interview.

So, finding those internal checks and balances and ways to accommodate yourself and your needs, super important. And I think we learn that as we go, as we learn more about ourselves, and about our neurology, too.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I have a question for you both. For when you're in your own creative flow, how does environment affect either or both of you for when you find you're more creative? Or how does that interact?

MEGAN NEFF: It's a great question. I feel like for me it ebbs and flows. I think as I've gotten older, like I feel like the ideal sensory environment matters a little bit more. Although, I'm also the person who like… and this is more classically autistic than ADHD, like can go to a coffee shop, and get so hyper focused that people are like, "Megan, Megan, like we're at..."

So, it's kind of a both and. My personal ideal at this moment in life is like a weighted blanket. I have a moon pod, which is like a zero-gravity beanbag chair, like beanie, and headphones with a song on repeat. And then sometimes like some incense.

But I love to create kind of an ideal sensory environment where I can get really deeply into focus. I have a new puppy. It turns out not the best environment for creativity. It leads to a lot of disruptive creativity.

BRET MALLEY: For sure. Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: What about you, Patrick?

PATRICK CASALE: I think for me I've noticed, like, the more stimulation around me, and it has to be external. I can't create at my house. Like, it's just borderline impossible. I have a puppy, but I have a neurotic Shih Tzu who just causes chaos 24/7. So, it's like, you could be in focus, and all of a sudden, he's losing his mind. And you're like, "Okay, well, that's done. I have to remove myself from this environment." I have to place myself in environments that like Megan said, it could be in a coffee shop, it could be loud, it could be, like, kind of chaotic. I'm like drowning all of that out to the world.

I create a lot in movement. I create a lot in nature. I create a lot when I'm traveling. When I'm traveling, I probably feel the most creative because it's new stimuli, it's new environment, new experience. It's like the excitement factor of all the things and that's where my brain is like, "Oh, yes, here are all these ideas."

So, it takes some effort to get to that place. But if I'm at my house I'm doing like routine tasks that don't really do it for me, but they have to be done. So, that's kind of the differentiation.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, routine versus creativity. Yeah, there's an interesting sort of battle there.

Yeah, for me, I've I found that music, I didn't realize how much more music I do, even, yeah, the same songs, the same kind of something than other people. I should have picked up on this earlier. But yeah, just getting something where either it's headphones. But that hyper focus really does become a studio, a creative studio, in a sense that if you're really in that flow, and have, at least for me, the right sensory things with music or something where you can just really hone in on it. Yeah, I feel like I could kind of take it anywhere. And variety, sometimes, it's helpful, different environments, as long as I can get into that flow.

But, yeah, it's interesting, because I know for some people, they have to be in just their studio or just this, and Megan Anna, what you're saying of, you know, where things just sort of zone out. Or at least aren't as focused in the same way as what we're creating. Yeah, that's an interesting thing.

And for students, I've noticed there's accommodating other people's way of making a space community has been interesting as well, because some have to have their own ears, some, you know, really ask, "Can I light speed down?" Or, "Hey, can I go to this other room?" And so it's so personalized. So, anyways, I was just curious. Thank you.

MEGAN NEFF: No, I love that question. I love that question. Yeah, yeah, my spouse even before we knew I was autistic would call it the vortex, because I would like get into the zone and like, not hear the kids, and not hear any of that.

I hadn't thought about this till you talked, Patrick, that movement. Back when I was doing my doctoral training, I had access to a basketball court. And so my favorite thing would be to go just shoot hoops repetitively. Again, listen to the same song on repeat.

And I wrote a lot of articles. I was writing a book at the time, and I wrote a lot of my book that way. I'd write in my head, and then I'd actually write it. And there's some research around this, that movement is one of the things that actually really supports ideation and creativity. I need more of that.

PATRICK CASALE: Yes. 

MEGAN NEFF: The pandemic has just messed with everything.

BRET MALLEY: No, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay. Sorry, Patrick.

PATRICK CASALE: [CROSSTALK 00:49:50] Megan, like when you've gone for walks around your neighborhood, maybe it was before you moved, actually, to your new place that that was very helpful, and just being able to get out into space. And I think even like, just generic movement for me, it doesn't even have to be something significant, like going to play soccer, it can just be going for a walk, like, because it allows my body to finally get back into my body. And I'm like, oh, okay, that's what it's like to put pressure on my feet. That's what it's like to like, hear sounds that are not indoors or in my television.

Like, my wife and I have a verbal agreement that I have to leave the house once a day, because there will be days where she's like, "Have you left the house this week?" And I'm like, "Isn't it Monday." And she's like, "It's Friday, you know, it's Friday. Every time I come home you're sitting in the dark doing something on the computer." I'm like, "Okay, okay."

So, it's a good reminder for me to be like, break that focus, break that monotony, break that routine up and just like get out and get into that space where I can start thinking differently.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, that's really important. I know that. But I don't practice it as much as I should. I have a routine. So, this is interesting, the battle of routine versus, you know, places that are more, I don't know, really tease out the creativity.

I have a spot in the couch where I go, and then I am just, you know, I, yeah, start vortexing, I'm going to so use that. I have my vortex space that's very effective for me. And then the family's, "Oh, no. There's that vortexing habit in the same spot there."

But yeah, I will go to the point of, you know, sitting two hours, three hours just being so on a screen and that's where my creative tools are often enough. But yeah, my wife will come over and say, "When was the last time you stood up?" I'm like, "Huh, yeah, okay. All right. I'll go do the dishes or something, I guess."

MEGAN NEFF: That's what I experienced, right? Of like, I'll be sitting there in the vortex but like I have to pee. And I'll be telling myself that for like an hour. But like, just cannot get myself to.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: [CROSSTALK 00:52:02] doing that thing where it's like, I have to pee. You should get up and go to the bathroom. You should get up and go to the bathroom. But then you keep doing-

BRET MALLEY: One step to the bathroom [CROSSTALK 00:52:10]-

PATRICK CASALE: … what you're doing it, right? Get out of here. Just like don't bother me with this right now [CROSSTALK 00:52:14]. Oh, shit. It's borderline UTI time.

BRET MALLEY: [INDISCERNIBLE 00:52:19]. Yeah. Okay, so this is not a gross tangent but similar. But I remember taking one of the psychology classes of, you know, back in undergrad, and you know of always taking care of your bodily needs. So, that is something if there's any, you know, have to go to the bathroom or anything else, I've found that I can be way more productive, really making sure that I am on that. And then I can dive even deeper into the vortex.

So, anyways, I've trained myself from that, whenever I have that thing, like, oh, I bet I'm going to be like 20 times more effective if I just like do this now. So, I have a motivation is to re-enter the vortex.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that that's what motivates you to take care of body needs is like it means a deeper longer vortex.

BRET MALLEY: Yes. [CROSSTALK 00:53:09].

PATRICK CASALE: …experience more creativity, yeah.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah. The body is just suffering, yeah. It moves the brain around, but the brain needs to be here and doing this thing. But yeah, yeah. Love the language that's coming out of this.

Returning to the vortex, yeah, I mean, I am so glad that I get to be around others that are going to college because they have that same sort of creative impulse and need. And so that's just been really wonderful as just a career choice is being able to immerse and help guide other people through their own process, and know, you know, when that person is experiencing it, and yeah.

And it's interesting back to what you were saying, Patrick, with movement. So, for my son, it is about pacing. So, he creates, he sees in 3D, and he's got a physics engine that operates, and all these really cool things. But for him, he either has to be bouncing on a yoga ball. Oh, yeah, pandemic taught him to be Olympic level. They had Olympics for yoga ball bouncing, and tricks, and all these things, gold medalist, all the way.

So, anyways, he has to be doing things and he'll be talking about a game idea or, you know, a monster, a creation that we then apply creative dad to then make, right? So, we collaborate in that way. But for him, movement is intrinsic to creating.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I love that. Megan and I have talked about this. And I'm sure a lot of people can relate. But like, as catastrophic, and I don't want to minimize as COVID has been, it's been so good for me in so many ways. Like, I get to work online, I get to do everything virtually, I don't have to be in person if I don't want to be. I know I have the privilege to do that. But it's just been transformative in that way where I'm like, I feel more creative now than I've ever been in my life over the last three or four years, honestly.

BRET MALLEY: So, I have an interesting story to share as, you know, having to teach… switch everything to Zoom. So, for me, there was a part of me that, yeah, I'm like, I love this.

So, I've always taught on video, right? I've figured out how to be expressive within a frame and how to make content interesting. And so when everything switched over to that I'm like, "Oh, this is this is amazing, I get to literally teach to this."

And so for some students, that was like, okay. For some, it was like, "This is the worst. I need to be in person, otherwise I cannot get this content." But then there was a demographic of students that this was, they're like, "College can be this? I can learn in my own environment with my lizard on my shoulder."

Like, I saw the students that were, "You know, now I can apply more knowledge that I've have." But there's this whole fairly large number of our student body that, you know, being remote, it opened them up, they could collaborate differently, they could be creative, they were excited in different ways.

And so yeah, that's interesting how much enforced social environment for many can really, talking about sensory, can't get past that, to get in the vortex or do anything creative or productive.

PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely.

BRET MALLEY: That was interesting to experience with the pandemic.

PATRICK CASALE: That was interesting to me as a therapist. Like, I would be seeing clients virtually and from a completely different perspective. And like, clients who would do sessions in their cars, because that was the only private space they had. But I got to see, like, their inner world in a way I never would have seen if they came in and sat on the couch because like, I'm like, "Oh, why do you have 20 iPhone boxes in your car?" Which then leads to like, conversations about neurodivergence. And then it leads to like, "Oh, I'm going to go get tested." And then it's like, "Oh, I'm autistic. And now I see the world through a different lens."

That never would have happened had that person come in and sat across from me for 50 minutes sessions and in person in that way. It was just illuminating in so many different ways, for me.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, it's like a safe way to not have someone try to peel off your mask, but to let more, you know, students who are in their environments. You know, their animals, their little buddies that they feel so strongly, you know, come right in, and then talking about these things, having these points that in a classroom environment were not an accessible social node to then, you know, there's no access to any kind of, you know, camaraderie or learning about each other.

But with the home, it was like, oh, yeah, this is my sabbatical office, but imagining the students, that was an important part that really opened up more connection and a lot of other things. It was like this lubricant that was so missing being extracted from that environment and put into this alien world of, we have chairs, and computers, and we're screening, now interact. You got five minutes, you know?

PATRICK CASALE: Yep, for sure.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, there's so many interesting things that came out of the pandemic. Lots were not good, but there are some amazing things like Olympic-level yoga ball. And so [CROSSTALK 00:58:52]-

PATRICK CASALE: Listen, and had this not happened. I don't think the three of us would be sitting here talking about it, talking about this conversation like this. So, I just think that so many cool things get to happen because we get to connect with people virtually, too. Like, Megan and I have never met in person. But I feel like Megan is one of the closest people I have in my life on a pretty routine basis. And we've never actually met. It's just pretty cool.

MEGAN NEFF: I love the phrase, oh-

BRET MALLEY: Oh, no, please go for it, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: I love the phrase mixed emotions. And I'm noticing myself having so many mixed emotions in this conversation because, like, I'm the same in that the pandemic opened up a new experience of life and like, I want to have the life I have. I have no idea what my life would look like. But I agree. Like, there's things that I love about my life I want to have.

But COVID itself has taken so much from my body, from my daughter. There's such mixed emotions about this.

PATRICK CASALE: Totally. 

MEGAN NEFF: And it's the one thing, like, when I'm… because I can get into spirals about like, what if I hadn't gone to that conference? What if I hadn't gotten infected so early? And then I'm like, okay. And I like the life I have right now. And living with this is incredibly, incredibly hard.

BRET MALLEY: Yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: It's really one of those diametrically opposing things that is a both-and situation so often, right? Like, we're like, look at all this good that came because of look at all this devastation. And both can happen and coexist together. And that's always challenging to hold up, especially, when it impacts you so physically too, like with long COVID that you're experiencing. Yeah. I feel for you. I don't do being sick well, and just chronic fatigue, and the struggle, and the exhaustion, and the brain fog would, yeah.

BRET MALLEY: It adds a whole other layer of, yeah. Like, okay, what should I say [INDISCERNIBLE 1:00:57] my colleagues watch this or not, you know, I was in the last holdout for, you know, mask every single place. And it was interesting what dynamic, what relationships, you know, how those evolved, what new ones came out of this? Which ones were like, "Oh, that's not as compatible with, you know, what I need, and my family needs."

Again, looking at the student side, you know, yeah, it was hard. I think what it did bring about that was released from my experience and my colleagues is an increase in empathy and grace, which I think society so needed a really big volume boost of.

So, in that case, where, you know, someone was sick or whatever was happening, I feel like at least in my class, like, okay, we are being about adaptive. I will do everything I can to make sure, you know, cut up, and I feel like a lot of students gave me more grace and trying to make it a better place for them.

So, on the social side, I'm thankful that I feel like there was at least a better awareness and care for one another in some ways. But that was also felt like only in certain environments. So, it was these pockets of empathetic, I don't know, little mini, micro-communities. I don't know. Yeah, that's a whole other topic.

But bringing it back to the creativity, that was helpful in a really, really hard time, especially, at the beginning, where there was so much new, just, you know, the environment of it being a safe place to make and to keep on trying is so important, as we're all making this.

So, to bring it back even further with the film and getting to do the sneak peek for the community, that also had much of the same feels like, "Oh, this is important for others. This really matters. And this is doing good. I'm going to keep doing this. This is where it's at."

So, yeah, it's of a lot of, definitely mixed emotions and mixed feelings from all of that.

MEGAN NEFF: Mixed emotions. It's a good word. It's a word that helps you hold paradox. I truly love paradox.

Yeah, speaking of your film, and I don't know, I mean, I know you're still in production. Do you have a timeline of, actually, some people have asked me, because I've been talking about your film of when this will be out for the world?

BRET MALLEY: Yeah. So I'm laughing because I'm trying to go, okay, how do I, you know, make the spiral right there? Aerodynamic, I don't know. You can have more gravity in the middle.

So, I have this year-long sabbatical to do, basically, as much as I possibly can, creative side, passion-wise, advocacy, to create the greatest impact I possibly can. So, like, in my mind, that's what I'm doing.

So, as part of that, there's where my sabbatical ends, or I start teaching, which is this coming fall. And we're shifting into now post-production.

So, I filmed 11 interviews, and, you know, incredible subjects that even if all I did was put together what these just incredible… I, basically, have my private, you know, series of TED Talks, right? You know, Monique, you know, I have Eric Garcia, yeah, I mean, all these just phenomenal figures in there. So, even if I just edit all of what they have it should be done. And it should be something powerful by fall.

What I want to do this taking more time, and then tricky is raising money to bring in other collaborators, in this case, animators, and illustrators, and other creatives, because I know it can be with more of a community, it can elevate, it can be something even more powerful.

I can do a lot, right? I can animate, I can do all these things. But I've learned just because I can do all these things isn't translate always to like should do all these things.

So, trying to bring in more collaborators is great in that people are very excited and want to. What's not great is fundraising to make sure that they have the support for being part of this like I do, right?

I have this privilege where, you know, I've put my time in as a college professor, and sabbatical, and supported. You know, I can just do the most I can every day.

So, the part that's taking longer is fundraising and getting enough support to hire this neurodivergent team of artists and animators to elevate it to the next level.

So, every time that I have to write an email, for me, that is not a fill-my-cup kind of activity. It is-

MEGAN NEFF: It sounds terrible.

BRET MALLEY: So, and I have to do a lot of networking. And I love who I've been able to connect with. But that energy when I'm in this box, it doesn't have a window, and I'm thankful for this office with all the things there, mixed emotions, that is hard to sustain versus bringing it back to point when I get to create or animate, right? Then I could be up to midnight every single night and more energized.

So, back to the point, it hopefully will be released this fall. It kind of depends on how much fundraising and how much support we can get from the community or you know, if there's an organization where I'm in talks right now with, some folks, which will be actually later today. So, if there can be funding that will help make it get done by this fall. If it needs to go a little bit longer, you know, then it has to, you know.

So, again, it's a mixed answer for that. My goal is to have it all done before I go back to teaching, because that's when my time commitment just goes to the students, and to having a really great program. So, yeah. So, there's the answer. We need more funds raised to get through this next part.

PATRICK CASALE: Perfect segue. Where can people find that fundraiser?

BRET MALLEY: I'm so glad you asked. You know, so this being, you know, by the community, for the community, and then, hopefully, we can get more audience beyond the community. So, we have the website, thedivergentgift.com.

PATRICK CASALE: That's it.

BRET MALLEY: Yep. There is a little Donate link for people that… we have a fiscal nonprofit, again, dyslexic, nonprofit fiscal sponsorship through the Portland Art Museum and Center for an Untold Tomorrow, PAM CUT, there we go. So, donations are tax deductible. It's amazing with the partnerships that we have. We're working with a B Corp Funnelbox who's incredible partners.

So, that website, if nothing else will get you to where you can learn more about it and see the trailer. And if you want to see the 24 minutes sneak peek, as long as you don't post it anywhere, you can email me and I'm happy to maybe share a little sneak peek with others. But, yeah. So, thedivergentgift.com. And then that's probably the easiest way to find the donation link.

MEGAN NEFF: And I'll put this in the show notes as well as like an extra way. So, I think people should donate directly, absolutely. And then an extra thing people could do if they want, I've got to, because I always give 10% of my proceeds from my shop to various autistic initiatives. So, for January and February that's been directed to the film. But I have a coupon code that will stay active until you're done fundraising.

For our listeners, it gives you 25% off as listeners. And then 20% of the proceeds will go to the film. So, we'll put that in the show notes as well. So, that's another way that people can support the film is if they've been wanting one of the neurodivergent workbooks, they can do that.

BRET MALLEY: It's your chance. Thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: Amazing. 

BRET MALLEY: Yeah, I'm just very thankful.

MEGAN NEFF: Honestly, I'm so excited. Like, I think part of what is shifting and how like, with more autistic people speaking about autism is it's shifting from a narrative of this is a terrible, horrible thing that happens to families to something that we can take pride in, that we can celebrate autistic culture.

And I feel like your film really embodies a celebration of autistic culture, especially, with the fact you're bringing in autistic, like, animators and artists, and it's by the autistic community. And I am so excited about this, because I think having more things in the world that highlight autistic creativity, and that give people something to feel proud of, of like, yes, I'm part of this community, I'm part of this culture, I think is so powerful. So, yeah, I'm really, really excited to see this whenever it's released.

BRET MALLEY: Me too. So, Patrick, I'll send you the sneak peek too.

PATRICK CASALE: Thank you very much, man.

BRET MALLEY: Thank you. I'm, yeah, very excited to just keep doing this. Again, it has to be talking, again, full circle there with the creativity. And this film has to be out in the world. Like, I need this to be from here out there.

So, yeah, and I appreciate everyone that feels that and has that similar need. And if I can use my creativity and my skills in everything that I do, and just love doing to help, you know, get this out there as just the coolest thing that, you know, aside from my son, I'll have, you know, helped be part of.

PATRICK CASALE: Wow, thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation. It was a lot of fun and really enjoyed this, really learned a lot, and I hope this was helpful for everyone that's listening.

And all of Bret's information will be in the show notes as well. And all of Megan's information that she just listed so everyone has easy access to donate, to purchase workbooks that will also go towards donation. So, lots of great ways to get involved and I'm really excited for you, congrats on this. It sounds amazing.

BRET MALLEY: We'll see, thank you so much again for having me both of you. This has been really wonderful. So, I'm so glad I got to, yeah, connect with more of the community. It's been such a cool thing as part of this project. So, I'm glad it led me to you both. Thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: Thank you. And to everyone listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast, new episodes are on every single Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. We'll see you next week.

MEGAN NEFF: As you may know from listening to our podcast, I've been working on a book, Self-Care for Autistic People. And I'm excited to announce it's out this month, both in physical form and as an audiobook.

As a celebration of its release, I'd like to share some excerpts from the audiobook edition with you our podcast listeners.

The book is designed as a book you can pick up for brief, easy five-minute reads, with over 100 different entries that introduce you to practices for incorporating self-care. You can find the audiobook wherever audiobooks are sold, available on March 19th, enjoy.

Here's another excerpt from the audiobook edition of Self-Care for Autistic People that touches on how to celebrate your special interests.

SPEAKER 1: My brain works in self-contained worlds that I refer to as ecosystems. I see connections, links, patterns, and relations in everything. When I become passionate about something, I must understand it in its entirety. This is what I call the special interest ecosystem. This might sound familiar to you because approaching interests in this deep way is actually a common trait of autistic people.

My special interest ecosystem has become a crucial part of my self-care routine. When I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I turn to my interests for comfort and grounding, because they provide a sense of stability and familiarity.

Your interests not only are deeply integrated into your identity but also can be incredibly soothing. They can help you reduce stress, emotionally regulate, and access a wellspring of energy to help you feel more grounded.

You can find comfort and safety in the deep understanding you have about your areas of interest. As a bonus, connecting with other people about your areas of interest is a powerful way to forge and strengthen connections and relationships.

However, many autistic people resist leaning into their special interests. Society often views these interests as abnormal or obsessive, which can lead to internalized shame and embarrassment. This mindset can make it challenging to embrace the power of your special interest energy for self-soothing.

Try flipping the script on any negative associations you may have with your interests and celebrate them instead. After all, the energy behind special interests can drive innovation, creativity, and social change.

Many groundbreaking inventions and movements have come from people deeply passionate about particular subjects. For example, Greta Thunberg's interest in environmental justice has ignited a spark within millions, inspiring them to rally against the threat of climate collapse. Similarly, Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple was known for his obsession with the convergence of technology and design, which reshaped the technological landscape.

Note, while Jobs exhibited numerous autistic traits, there is no definitive evidence to confirm he was autistic.

Because interests and identity are so interwoven for autistic people, embracing your interests is a form of embracing your identity. You will cultivate a strong sense of self through your interests, making them a foundational part of your mental self-care.

To integrate special interests into self-care, consider reserving specific time for delving into your passions, using your interests as emotional regulation tools, weaving your hobbies into daily activities, or leveraging them to cultivate social connections. See what resonates with you. The key is to not be ashamed of your level of interest.

By embracing these interests and incorporating them into your self-care routine, you can find a sense of stability and familiarity in a world that often feels overwhelming and unpredictable.

MEGAN NEFF: Many autistic people apologize for merely existing. And so I definitely needed an entry on how to curtail the apology reflex. Here's an excerpt from that portion of the book.

SPEAKER 1: Do you habitually apologize even when others bump into you or when you're simply asking for clarification? Does this apology reflex manifest everywhere in your life? Many autistic people tend to apologize excessively. It's as if we feel compelled to apologize for our mere existence.

Before realizing I was autistic and consciously addressing this issue, I found myself apologizing relentlessly. I felt a constant need to justify my existence by being excessively accommodating. Whenever my presence seemed to cause any inconvenience regardless of fault, an apology would follow.

Due to our efforts to fit into a neurotypical society and the shame we experience when we're unable to do so, many of us have become accustomed to apologizing for simply taking up space.

While expressing regret when you genuinely hurt someone or air is important, continually apologizing for merely existing needs reassessment. This reflex reinforces a negative self-narrative of being a burden or an inconvenience, leading to feelings of neurodivergent shame, and low self-esteem, and adversely affecting our emotional health.

To break free from the apology reflex, try a new response. Next time someone inadvertently bumps into you or the reverse use phrases like excuse me, or pardon me, rather than automatically saying I'm sorry.

Adjusting your language helps you shift away from constant self-deprecation and fosters a more affirming sense of self. Over time, you can learn to stop apologizing for everything, and begin to cultivate a more positive and confident self-image.

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