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The Divergent Conversations Podcast is hosted by Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals and entrepreneurs, as well as features other well-known leaders in the mental health, neurodivergent, and neurodivergent-affirming community. Listeners know, like, and trust the content and professionals on this podcast, so when they hear a recommendation on the podcast, they take action.


Episode 46: Navigating Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Crafting Safe Spaces [featuring Lyric Rivera]

Mar 21, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

A traditional workplace can be really challenging for neurodivergent individuals, and if a workplace culture is made to be one-size-fits-all, the chances are high that it won’t fit for many neurodivergent people.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, talk with Lyric Rivera, founder of NeuroDivergent Consulting, author, and later-in-life diagnosed AuDHD person, about how to create neurodivergent-affirming spaces, including in the workplace and in online communities.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Understand the essential need to reframe our workplace cultures to not just accommodate but truly embrace the strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table.
  2. Discover the nuanced challenges adults face with a later-in-life neurodivergent discovery, including unraveling the web of self-deprecating beliefs to shift to self-compassion and understanding.
  3. Learn how to implement neurodivergent-friendly practices in the workplace and communities that will lead to more open communication, allow people to play to their strengths, and give individuals the resources and environment they need to show up as their best.

There is still a lot of work to be done to create workplaces and other spaces that truly embrace neurodiversity and accommodate for the uniqueness of each individual, but by implementing Lyric’s suggestions in this episode, we can start leaning into people’s strengths and allow for more growth, better solutions, and spaces that feel safe and welcoming. 

More about Lyric Rivera:

Lyric Rivera, founder of NeuroDivergent Consulting and author of the best-selling business ethics book Workplace Neurodiversity Rising, named “Trend for 2023” and praised in Forbes as “an excellent ‘how to manual’ based on lived Experience and professional competence.” 

Lyric also runs the blog NeuroDivergent Rebel and is known as the pioneer of the #AskingAutistics hashtag, where simple questions prompt open-ended responses that Autistic people can quickly chime in with and invites participants to engage each other in conversations related to the topic. This hashtag connects people who would not otherwise have a reason to engage with each other and fosters a collective understanding of the Autistic Experience.



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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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PATRICK CASALE: Hey everyone, we are back with another episode of the Divergent Conversations podcast.

And today, we have Lyric Rivera, founder of Neurodivergent Consulting, an author of the bestselling business ethics book, Workplace NeuroDiversity Rising named Trend for 2023 and praised in Forbes as an excellent how-to manual based on lived experience and professional competence.

Lyric also runs the blog Neurodivergent Rebel, and is known as a pioneer of the hashtag #AskingAutistics, where simple questions prompt open-ended questions that autistic people can quickly chime in with, and invites participants to engage each other in conversations related to the topic.

Sorry, stumbling over my words. We're really happy to have you on and we're going to talk about workplace culture, and your book, and a lot of these things. And as you mentioned, before we started recording what people often get wrong, which I think is super practical and really, really a valuable conversation.

I just want to say, I've been following your social media for a couple of years now. And I've loved the journey. And I just love how authentic you are and how you show up. And I feel like it's an honor for you to be here. So, thank you for coming on and making the time.

LYRIC RIVERA: Well, thank you. I'm honored to be here. I really appreciate you inviting me and I look forward to diving into the conversation. So, thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: So, where do we want to start with this topic? Because you've written a book. It's obviously gotten a lot of acclaim. And I think you should just take it away. Like, what prompted the writing of this book? Why does it feel so important to you? I know that's a huge question.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, well, I found out I was autistic when I was 29 years old, and the ADHD diagnosis was a few years later. And I started working in the family business when I was like 11. So, I did in the workplace for well over 15 years, by the time I finally found out I was autistic.

And suddenly, with that new knowledge in my head, because, you know, I'd been in a lot of different fields, and I've had a lot of different management roles already. And I could just suddenly see pretty much all the struggles I've had in any workplace had to do with being autistic and having not empowered, and having it treated as if it was a problem. And I could just see all the ways I had failed. Because I didn't understand this about my brain. And because the workplaces weren't willing to flex to me and treated me like I was a problem.

And so just all of the things in my head that just suddenly were so clearly wrong with all the workplaces, I could see. And all the ones I've been through, and all the ones I was in currently. It's just the things that, like, wouldn't let go in my head, which is kind of what drove me to get into doing the independent consulting in this area too. Because it's like a very autistic stereotype that I fit, is I've latched on to this problem that these workplaces are broken and I can turn it off. Like, I need to fix the problem. And so until the problem was fixed, I'm just stuck on it.

And it became really clear to me within the first year of being solo in my consulting business on my own that, I, one person, cannot go fix all of the workplaces, even a real reasonable fraction of them by myself, because that's just one person.

And so I really wanted something that was like a guide book that was really actionable and easy for people to take and start making immediate change without, you know, getting me involved or anyone.

Hopefully, they could get their employees involved and start making these changes for, you know, almost nothing because the eBook is like 999. And the paperback is like 1299, depending on your country. So, it's like really cheap.

So, it's like a lot of businesses are like, "Oh, we can't afford to make changes." It's like, "Well, I've made it so cheap. You really have no excuse not to start making at least some of the changes that really just cost time and energy."

So, that was like the birth of the book, because I wanted it to be so easy that these businesses didn't have an excuse anymore, not to start making immediate changes.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that. I love that as an origin story, too. I had jotted something down as your writing. This would diverge us too much. But I'm just going to say this one thought, which is like we should talk some time about like, fix the world stress or fix the world anxiety. Because when you said that, I'm like, and then my brain and I couldn't turn it off. I was like, "Yep, yep."

And I see that all the time, right? Like, I think that is such a source of, well, on one hand, stress, and struggle, and anxiety, because we see these things, we see the systemic problems, we see kind of what needs to change. But on the other hand, like what you've done here, a source of meaning. Like, you've been able to create a career, you created a really accessible resource like to be able to bring that to the world can be such a source of meaning as well. So, I just love the origin story of how you got into this.

LYRIC RIVERA: Thank you. And I'm hoping it's something that will like, you know, at this point now it's in print, it's out there forever. And it'll outlive me. And it'll keep doing the thing long after I'm gone, hopefully, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:06:51].

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely.

PATRICK CASALE: You made it cheap, you made it accessible. What are we seeing people so often get wrong when it comes to all things workplace culture?

And again, I realize I'm asking really big questions. And like, we could do hours of episode on what do people get wrong. But I want to kind of jump to that, because you kind of emphasized that before we started recording. So, what comes to mind?

LYRIC RIVERA: The number one thing that people get wrong is everyone always comes to me asking, "I want to start a neurodiversity hiring initiative." Or, "I want to attract more neurodivergent talent."

They want to, like, start getting neurodivergent seats and butts in their chairs. But they're taking for granted that they have an environment that exists now that might not be ready, or very likely, they have neurodivergent people in their employment right now at this very moment.

And so, really, the question they should be asking first is, do you have neurodivergent people in your organization right now? And if so, like, are they open about it? Are they feeling like they're unsafe to mention it? Like, do you not know?

Because if you don't know, why don't you know? Why aren't people, like, feeling safe to discuss this? Or is your workplace really naturally accommodating, and people don't need to disclose it, because, you know, they feel it's a non-issue? That's also something that can happen.

Or if you really have no neurodivergent people right now, in your workplace, your system's got to be really bad, because you're weeding them out somehow or they're not sticking around.

So, like, you've got to really look at the environment as it exists now. And what your current organizational policy and cultures are, because, you know, if you think of it like coming to transplant some flowers or some plants, and you don't first prepare the soil, and the environment, and you get everything ready for these new plants to come survive, your plants are going to die. And you've wasted all that effort.

And if you are… I also have a background. Like, part of my background is recruiting and hiring. And that's a really expensive loss when you onboard someone and they leave. It's really expensive. And if you're doing that over and over again, you are wasting so much money, which is like, we don't need to be focusing on hiring, you need to be focusing on what's your environment like right now. Because if you fix the environment, you fix the culture, you have a place that is safe for neurodivergent people to work, they're going to tell other people this is a great place to work, where it will spread, like the word will get out.

But if you bring a bunch of people in, you're wasting all that effort if you haven't fixed the environment first.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that so much. Like, cultivate the ecosystem first. Actually, I've seen this, and more of my context has been in looking at different training programs, but where there'll be efforts to bring in, particularly, like one that I saw a lot of waves of maybe 5, 10 years ago was to actively recruit more BIPOC students, because the mental health field, historically, it's a very white profession.

But not doing that work first of how do we create a system where when we bring them in, this is actually a psychologically safe place for them. So, I love what you're saying is like, we actually have to start with the ecosystem. And what are you building? Before just like, let's fill these seats with these identities that we want.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, there's physical, you know, sensory safety, there's policies, and emotional safety. That's a really big piece that a lot of organizations want to skip and don't even look at is the emotional safety, which is the other big mistake is they're not understanding that people have to feel safe to be able to speak up when they have a need. And if people feel as if they are going to be ridiculed, scolded, or speaking up about what they need, or their actual feelings is going to… they react poorly on them. And that's going to make them, you know, face punishment or something. They're going to hold back and they're not going to be willing to share, because they're going to be, "This isn't safe."

And so emotional safety is a really huge piece, not just for neurodivergent people, but for anyone who has a disability, because they need to be able to be vulnerable, because there's environments out there where if you do have a disability, and you get accommodations, everyone's like, "Oh, why did they get special treatment?"

And that was what I encountered when I found out I was autistic. I was like, "I finally have this diagnosis. I have this label. I'm going to be able to get a combination."

But then it was like, everyone wants what you're asking for, it wouldn't be fair to give you special treatment. Yeah, which I wish I would have said it. But I didn't have the fortitude that I have now that if everyone wants what I'm asking for your system must be really terrible, because your system sucks. I wish I would have said it, you know, in hindsight. But that's where we are. The systems are terrible. And neurodivergent people are the canaries in the coal mine in a lot of circumstances.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, that's so true. I watched myself and Megan both start laughing when you said that, because it was just like, "Yeah, this is ridiculous."

And you're right, the systems are terrible. So, if we're not cultivating this ecosystem, if we're not creating something really foundationally sound, and learning, and growing, and adapting it, the culture will never get created. Because it's so hard to do that if you don't create that foundation. And if you don't do so with that purpose and that intention.

And that includes everything, right? Like, policies, procedures, interview processes, hiring processes. Like, all of the ways that you set up your workplace environment.

So, like, there's so much to this, and there's so much that gets missed. And it's so much more than just being like, we're going to slap a label on our website and that's kind of going to be it.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, it's not a one-and-done. And I think people expect it will be a one-and-done. And it's a lot more than that.

So, first, it's like starting the conversation, you know? And letting people know that you're a safe organization. But you can't just start the conversation and let people know you're safe if your actions say otherwise.

So, there's a whole lot that you have to address and, you know, start doing a training of neurodiversity one-to-one or something like that. It's just the first step. It's just a conversation starter.

And you know, that might bring up some really tricky conversations in organizations. Like things they weren't ready to face or deal with yet. Which is another scary thing, I think, sometimes. Because they have to be really ready to take action when people start saying, "Hey, there are these problems."

Because if we don't take action, when our employees are telling us we have problems, then they're just going to feel unheard. And then it was like the problem has been made aware. And we're all just like, "Oh, look at this big problem nobody wants to do anything about."

So, you know, there's definitely some delicacy to jumping into the situations too. But, you know, we know when people are trying.

MEGAN NEFF: The thing that's popping in my head, and maybe this exists, but it's like an inventory that, like, leadership would take of like, are you ready for a neurodiverse work team? And it would have questions like, you know, are you ready to hear honest feedback from employees?

And I have some of those questions that would prompt them to, like, deeply think about what would it mean to intentionally be recruiting a more neurodiverse work team? Because yeah, I think, and understandably, if this isn't a world you're in, I think people don't often realize what that means to cultivate a neurodiverse team where there's a lot of different brain styles thinking very differently about things. And are they actually asking those questions of like, is our culture ready for this?

LYRIC RIVERA: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And a lot of them too, like, they don't necessarily understand how to let yet, like assume the good intentions, either. Like, they think they know, but then it's like, you know, they're like, "Oh, this person is being lazy." Or, "This person just isn't doing their work."

And it's like, well, like, do you understand? Like, have you assumed they're just being lazy? Or are you assuming that their brain works the same way your brain works, because they're doing something that's hard for them and takes way more energy than… and it's something that's easy for you?

So, it's like we have to, like, really just retrain people how to think, because we've got, like, this bias that we think everyone's brain works the way our brains work. And we don't.

See, I thought this way when I didn't know I was autistic. And that was really to my detriment, when I didn't know about my ADHD. Like, that was really to my detriment, because I could see-


LYRIC RIVERA: …other people around me. It was like, they made everything look so easy. And I'm like, "Well, I'm a massive mess up, because this is hard for me. Why is it so damn hard for me?"

MEGAN NEFF: The biggest way this got me in trouble in the workplace was just saying what I meant and assuming everyone else was doing the same. And that got me in trouble in like different work settings, especially, because I've been in these kind of more professional workspaces and I would just be really, really authentic.

And I think a couple things were happening. And one, like, obviously, people weren't doing the same thing. But then I had this realization after my diagnosis of like, people were probably reading into what I was saying, thinking I was saying more than I was, because I was being so face value. Yeah, yeah.

So, that whole, like, realizing other brains don't work like mine, that has been a big aha moment and realizing a lot of my work clashes came down to just assuming other people were showing up in a similar way, which they absolutely were not.

LYRIC RIVERA: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. It's like I got in trouble in one workplace. It was like, in my performance reviews I would have things like, "Oh, there was a typo in the internal email." And it'd be like, "Oh, you're your body language on site at that client event." Or, "Your posture was not very proper and you kept having your arms crossed." I'm like, "It's cold outside, of course, I feel cold." You know?

It was like things like, you know, like I was being critiqued on, like, not smiling enough, and like, just strange, like, you know, things that, like, made me just, like, so hyper self-aware. And then it was like, you know, as an autistic person, I really need to recharge on my lunch breaks, for example. And so it was like, I don't want to go sit in the break room with everybody sitting at the table, like, conversation with, like, eight people at lunch. That's not going to, like, help me take a break. So, I can continue the other half of my workday.

So, I would, like, go sit by myself outside where it's quiet with trees. And then I would get in trouble for not being social with my co-workers, and not having a bond with my co-workers, and not making enough effort to make friends with my co-workers, because I needed to actually use my lunch break for me. I needed to have my time. And it's just like, these expectations, like some people really need all that social connection at work. But, you know, a lot of times the employees that are a little bit less social, like we get punished, and scolded, or people think we don't like our co-workers or you know, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:41] like no, I'm just tired, I just literally need a break. I need to use my break for a break.

And so, there's a lot of misunderstandings because other people apparently recharge sitting in a group of people. Like, that's relaxing for some people, not me, you know?

PATRICK CASALE: Megan and I were talking about this when it comes to, like, workplace social events that would happen after hours, or like team holiday parties, or whatever, and you're like, dreading this so much. But if you don't go, then all of a sudden, like you said, Lyric, you're not really a team player, you don't really enjoy your co-workers, all the things that come up with that.

I used to struggle so much. And I still would if I was in a 9:00 to 5:00 traditional, like, typical setting. Why do I have to be here at 9:00 in the morning? Like, why do I have to do this? If I can get my work done in three to four hours a day, why do I have to sit here for eight hours? I don't understand.

And those are the types of questions that would get me into trouble all the time. And like, those are the types of situations I would find myself in and cultivating, like, looking at your hours and the reason behind your policies and procedures is so crucial when we're talking about this stuff. Like, for our group practice, I just interviewed someone. And they said, "What are your hours?" And I said, "What do you want them to be, because honestly, I want to make it accessible for you, and your system, and what you need?"

I don't sleep well, as so many of us don't. So, like, if I'm going to start my day before 10:00 AM, it's just not going to happen. And I just want to be really aware of that too, because these are the little things that we can build into our culture and our infrastructure that goes such a long way in supporting people's systems and their needs, too.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah. And [INDISCERNIBLE 00:21:23] a schedule is really important for neurodivergent people. And that was another thing you remind me of that people don't think of when they're building these schedules is that, like, you are very likely, the tasks you're good at, it probably takes you half the time. Or you can do the work of two people doing that task, because it's like you're really skilled in that area. That's how it is for me. Like, the stuff I'm good at, I'm really good at. I can do it way quicker than most people I know.

But the stuff that other people think's real simple, sometimes, tedious, the stuff they take for granted that they can do so easily, that's the hard stuff for me, you know? And that's going to take me longer. And it's going to take me way more energy and way more motivation to do that.

And so, you know, when I worked in organizations where that was a problem, and it was just like I was scolded for taking longer at doing things that were harder for me and it completely was ignored that I could do a lot of things way faster.

But then at the same time, like, in another organization where that wasn't a problem, they would just have people that liked the tasks we were not so good at, do those tasks, and people that were good at that stuff. It's like we divided our work better, because we were mindful of what each person was good at and let them do the thing they're good at. And then we let them either outsource or have a team member collaborate, when they had a weakness.

Like, that's a really nice neurodiversity-informed way of working, letting everyone do the work they actually really enjoy. And then everyone can like their job because they're doing things that are to their skills. So, it makes it better for everyone, not just your neurodivergent team members, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. And I mean, that reminds me of, I can't… Oh, I'm blanking on the study now. Actually, I think it was in maybe Adam Grant's book about… He's a organizational psychologist. So, kind of what makes organizations work well. And talking about diversity. It wasn't exactly about neurodiversity, but it was diversity of thought, about how those groups often encounter more friction, but then end up coming to, like, a better conclusion.

And so this idea that having different thinking styles, different brain styles, right? Like, this gets back to like the core of the neurodiversity paradigm. Like, this is a good thing.

It's good we're not all autistic, it's good we're not all ADHD, it's good we're not all neurotypical. Like, it's so good that we get to have this beautiful diversity, and lean on one another. Like, my spouse and I do this all the time of I lean on his executive functioning like no other. And I'm the entrepreneur that has a lot of, like, creative ideas. And yeah, so I just love that vision of what you're showing of a team where it's like, we all get to lean into our strengths and be better when we do that.

LYRIC RIVERA: And that's really what I think if we had perfect communities that's what perfect communities would look like, right? We would all support each other, and we would do the things that we're good at. And we would all bring, you know, what we are naturally inclined to do to the table. And you know, that's how our relationship is, too. My partner, we're both ADHD, autistic ADHD. But we have very different strengths and weaknesses, even though we both are similar in our neurotypes, because we're just different people, you know? No two people with the same neurotype are exactly the same.

So, it is really beautiful that I have weaknesses that my partner doesn't and vice versa. And it was really wonderful. Sorry about that, guys. It was really, really wonderful [INDISCERNIBLE 00:25:11].

PATRICK CASALE: You know, one thing I'll say Megan is like, we recently just got done doing individual check-ins within my group practice with our clinicians. And I just asked them, like, we have a communications form that we have people use when they come on board. And they can do it anonymously if they want, or they can just submit it, preferred communication styles. And that can be like, I really like getting phone calls. I really like going on Zoom. I like having text conversations, stuff like that.

So, I was doing like, one-on-one check-ins with some of my clinicians via text, because I was like, "Do you want to do this without having any sort of verbal communication today?" And they'd say, "Absolutely, if that can happen, that would be wonderful." Some people would request phone calls, some people would request video calls.

And those are, again, these little details that we are overlooking so often. And if we are in environments of employment where it's like, "Well, why would we do that? That's not how we can measure progress or success. Or we're looking at it from this very ableist lens. Or we're looking at it from a very neurotypical perspective. It gets lost in translation. Like, some of my clinicians don't need to call me to tell me what's going on. Like, we can have text conversations, and we can go over the last three months of everything that they've been doing, and support each other that way. And it gives my voice a break too, which is a blast.

So, it's just like, I'm just fascinated by trying to continuously, like, figure out as many ways that we can create affirming workplace culture as possible.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, there's so many different ways. Like, right now I'm working with a couple different people. Like, we're working asynchronously, you know? So, I check in on a document a certain time of day when I'm fresh, and they check in on the document different time of day when I'm fresh, and we each check in about once every 24 hours, and we just go behind and pass notes back and forth. And, you know, we're accommodating how each other work.

There are other people that, like I said, we help on Zoom calls. And it's a really nice way to work. It's like, what do you need to be the best version of yourself, you know? What time of day are you freshest? You know, how do you communicate best? You know, some people, we do emails. I don't do chats on social media. Like, I can't keep up with those inboxes, you know? So, I'm like, "I'm not going to do that, sorry." Because if it's been marked red, then I'm going to forget about it. You know, executive functioning not there.

But I know I know my weaknesses, you know? And being able to be unapologetic with my weaknesses has been really empowering, because for the first 29 years of my life when I didn't know I was autistic and ADHD, I was hiding those weaknesses, and just trying to downplay them, and just trying to make sure they didn't show, because I felt like there was something I had to be ashamed of. And now it's like, I'm going to need help with that.

And now because I know to ask for help, or I say, "Hey, that's a hard no for me." Like, I actually get the help I need. And so, like, most of my life, I wasn't getting any help. So, it's just the difference between success and failure for me.

MEGAN NEFF: I love what you bring in the piece about like, being… I can't remember quite how you said it, but kind of being comfortable with your limits or your weaknesses. Like, I talk about that a lot with burnout is like we have to grieve our limits to build a life that actually works for us. But that's so true with the workplace too, to like build like a work rhythm, work practices that work for us. Like, we've got to get to a place of comfort or acknowledgement of like, what is hard for me? Like, for me, executive functioning is really, really hard. Organization is really, really hard.

And coming to terms with that and like figuring out okay, what accommodations do I need because of that? But yeah, that takes… I don't know what it takes. It takes vulnerability, takes grief. I mean, it's not fun to look at that stuff.

LYRIC RIVERA: But burnout's what led me to figuring this out, too. Like, I was in an extreme burnout. And like after you've been in burnout for so long, eventually, it kind of becomes depression, at least in my experience, because it becomes helpless. It feels really helpless. And you're like, this is my life forever. I don't know how I can get out of this. I'm stuck. And like, it becomes really hopeless.

And so I first became burnt out, and then it became burnt out and depressed. And I was really in this really bad physically unhealthy, mentally unhealthy place when I found out I was autistic. And it was because of this workplace that just, like, everything about me being autistic was a problem.

And so just after months of it just began to internalize that I was the problem. And I felt like I was just the problem. And it hit me so hard. And then realizing my brain really was different. And just realizing that even though everyone was telling me I need to try harder, and apply myself more, and just do more, and do more, and do more, I realized I had been trying harder and doing way more than everyone else. And it just wasn't being seen because my brain was different.

And it was just that aha moment for me that just kind of stopped that way of looking at myself and let me develop I think self-compassion for probably the first time in my entire life. Because I had no self-compassion, because nobody around me had given me compassion. So, I didn't give myself compassion.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I say this a lot, Lyric. I say, like, this is I think one of the greatest gifts of diagnosis or identification is access to self-compassion. Absolutely the same way I had such a brutal self-critic… like a self-critic on steroid, who was, like, trying to protect me, right? Because if I can criticize myself before others, it's adaptive, but not really. And, yeah.

And I see this all the time that like people finally are able to access a way of being gentle with themselves, self-compassion for the first time after having this lens. And I think that's one of the most powerful things I see. It's, yeah.

LYRIC RIVERA: It's a wake-up call. But then it's also, like now, it's like I've known for seven years and I don't feel that way about myself anymore. But I still got all those patterns from 29 years of treating myself badly. And like, as if I'm not worthy of self-care, as if my needs don't matter.

And so I'm still trying to break all of those habits that developed in my life, from a lifetime of, like, really believing I wasn't enough and didn't deserve comfort, even, which is so sad to see. It's like even though I don't see that anymore, it's like the patterns are still there.

So, like, you know, how long am I going to be working back to fix all that? You know? And how many other neurodivergent people are out there going through similar? Or like, my brain always goes to all the ones that might not figure out they're neurodivergent in their lifetimes, you know, because I've got family members, older generations, especially, that are really resistant to that kind of information. And I just wish everyone could just, like, I just want to wake you all up like, "Hey, hey, please come on."

Like, because it is so just life-changing to have that self-compassion. And I just wish everyone could have that for themselves. And it's just like, I see, you know, almost 30 years of my life where I just didn't have that at all. It's just like, I just want to hug that little person since there isn't there anymore that little kid me, because even as a kid, you know, it wasn't really there.


PATRICK CASALE: And it's so hard when it wasn't there as a kid. And if you, like you said, didn't have anyone to show that to you or to model that for you. And then you go through life, like, thinking consistently, like, what is wrong with me? Why is it me who just doesn't get this or doesn't access this? And then all of a sudden, it's a completely different lens to see the world through. That doesn't make it that much easier at times.

But I'm so grateful to have pursued diagnosis at 35 years old, because 35 years just did not add up for me, it didn't make sense. And I just was at this point where I was like, I really don't know what else to fucking do at this point in time.

LYRIC RIVERA: And that's the thing. It's like everything suddenly makes sense. Like, oh, my gosh, everything, like makes sense now. And all the things that really didn't make any sense, like, in my life, suddenly, it was like I had this missing piece of information.

And it was like, "Oh, all of this stuff that happened made sense." You know, the bullying. Why my teachers were just so upset by just the way I was. Like, just the way I existed, like, angered my teachers, just the way, you know, I presented myself, just the way I moved. Like, I was like, "Why?" Like, I didn't understand. And it's like, at least I know why now.

But then it's like that hindsight, like, okay, now I need to fix that, but fix the world anxiety, talking about like, "Got to fix the world."

MEGAN NEFF: It's real. It's real. Like, so I beat all you all. I was 37. So, I was the oldest of the batch when I found out. But yeah, it's so much, like, those neural pathways are so etched in after all those years.

So, I always love these email exchanges. In the last year, I've gotten a lot of emails from like 80-year-old women who are discovering this about themselves right now, like 70 and 80. And it hits me, because I think about the grief I had of like, oh my goodness, like 37 years of, you know, neural wiring to try and rewire and all of this time without this lens.

And then I think about being, you know, toward the end of life, and discovering that, and having 80 years. Like, I had so much to unpack. I remember I bumped up my therapy to twice weekly when I was processing this, because I was unpacking so, so much from 37 years. But can you all imagine unpacking 80 years?

LYRIC RIVERA: That's a lot, you know? And it's hard to imagine. But I hear, like, my readers, they are finding out in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, like you said, 70s, beyond. Like, it's not a limit. And especially, think about like autism, just as an example, because I know the timelines. Like, we didn't start really screaming everybody until like 2006, I think. And it was pediatric visits, they started, like screening. And that's in US, where they started screening it like 18 months and two years or something like that.

And that was 2006. I graduated in 2005. So, like, I was already out of high school. So, that's my generation. I'm 37 right now.

And so they weren't scanning people who are in their 30s right now. They definitely weren't, you know, looking for people that were older. And then before that, like the definition of autism was so narrow in those previous generations where unless you were, what now it'd be kind of like autism plus, like autism and additional disabilities on top of autism, there's quite a few that are common, unless you have those, you know, really additional complex disabilities, you wouldn't have been labeled autistic back then. Whereas now they recognize that there's kind of some core features. And then, you know, there are additional disabilities that are really common, but we don't all have all of the disabilities that are common in autistic people.

And then, you know, they also realize that some of us like we have this trajectory, where we struggle more at different times in our life, depending on a lot of different things that has to do with our support, and just what else we've got going on, how much stress, and all of that.

So, you know, we at least know it's a little bit more complicated now and that the functioning is a bit fluid, and can depend on a lot of factors. But back then the knowledge was just so, so limited.

And there was also so much stigma with autistic people, specifically, where like in the 50s, and probably even in the 60s, and like Temple Grandin. I don't know how old Temple Grandin is, like of her age, they were just institutionalizing them. Like, that was the advice, just lock her away and forget about her.

So, a lot of parents wouldn't have wanted their kids to be screened. And, you know, in school, I was in elementary school, and they did want to screen me for learning disabilities.

And just because of fear and the stigma, my guardians were like, "No, you're not. You just want to label this kid." Like, they didn't understand. Like, there were other labels being thrown on me anyway, not-so-nice ones. You know, really terrible words and horrible things people were saying. But they were trying to protect me, because, you know, they came from that generation where it was, you know, potentially, like dangerous. So, you know, it's hard for some of those people in that generation.

But maybe, you know, something I think about is, I do realize if I would have been diagnosed sooner, it was probably a lot more likely I would have been put through a lot more strict behavior modification, because that would have been pretty standard back then. They probably would have segregated me more in the school system.

So, there's things I'm grateful I didn't have to go through, because I didn't know. And so the older generations, they probably have some things they're really grateful they didn't go through, because it was even worse.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I have a community. And every week, I have like a conversation prompts. And a couple of weeks ago I asked, if you had a time machine, like, when would you have wanted to know?

And most people in the community, not everyone, but most folks are autistic ADHD. And a really interesting pattern showed up. A lot of us said, actually, and for all those cultural reasons you just mentioned and more, a lot of us said, "I think I found out about my autism at the right age." Which is, typically, adulthood. "But I wish I'd known about the ADHD earlier." And that's how I feel.


MEGAN NEFF: And it was really interesting to see that pattern emerge. And yeah, I mean, that's absolutely how I feel, ADHD medication and support would have been so helpful. And not all of the challenges that would have come with being a diagnosed autistic person in the 80s and 90s.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, yeah. We've come a long way. And even, honestly, in the last like seven years since I've been diagnosed, I feel we've come a really long way. Because when I was first diagnosed, and I wanted to go find other autistic people online, or just read more autistic stories, because I was recommended a couple books. I read them, they're gone real quick, and I wanted more. And I [INDISCERNIBLE 00:39:43]. And it was all, you know, really negative, gloom and doom, parents complaining about their kids. There was nothing for adults or late identified, like, diagnosed people.

And there just really wasn't like, we have a lot of communities now, we have a lot of like neurodivergent run blogs and spaces now that these weren't things that would come up in Google search or in the web results back then. It was like all we had were like some hashtags on Twitter and Tumblr to like kind of find each other. But if you didn't know how to search, like, you wouldn't have found these things, which are a lot easier to find now, thank goodness.

But that's only been seven years. So, you know, that's kind of exciting to see just that much of a change. Because even now, like, people back then didn't really understand, like, respectful language for autistic people. It was still, even though you still see it from time to time, you still saw a lot of people using puzzle-piece logos to represent autistic people. Like, you saw that everywhere back then. And now it's like, things are a lot more respectful. And autistic people are leading more of the conversations, when seven to 10 years ago it was like everything was about us. And we weren't being included in our own stories and our own narratives.

So, like that's a big win. And just having control over being able to tell our own stories now, I think that'll be really big for us over the next, you know, 10 years, hopefully.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. That's one thing I like about your work is you have this perspective of you've been in the autistic advocacy space a while. Like, so I think I started creating resources maybe three years ago-ish. And I remember like, you are one of the handful of accounts. Like, even three years ago, it was really different than it is today.


MEGAN NEFF: And I remember, like you are one of the handful of accounts where it was like there's a lot of good resources coming out, a lot of education. Like, you've been in here for yeah, like seven years. Like, you've seen it have a huge shift in your time in the space.

LYRIC RIVERA: And fortunately, a lot of the people who were around when I started that, like I found, the few resources I found, or that popped up around that time don't even still do it anymore. It's just such a [CROSSTALK 00:39:39]-

MEGAN NEFF: It's a high burnout. It is-


MEGAN NEFF: Literally, I almost was late to this meeting because I was just responding to someone about this topic of like, I'm seeing autistic creator's burnout really quickly. And this year I'm doing a lot of deep thinking around boundaries, and like how to stay in this space, and keep information accessible, but also honor like boundaries, my own mind, and nervous system. And it's hard and yeah, I have seen a lot of creator's burnout. Yeah, so you've-

LYRIC RIVERA: And it's hard.

MEGAN NEFF: …here for seven years, so you must be doing something.

LYRIC RIVERA: I'm just stubborn. It's hard, because like, they eat each other alive too, sometimes, you know? Which is really sad. And that just kind of breaks my heart. And I think maybe that's like, I try not to get involved in those kinds of things. Like, I'm just, like, in my own little bubble of just like, I'm just going to make stuff, and do my things, and put it out. And that's it. And I think that's how I stay.

MEGAN NEFF: That's what I do. No, Lyric. That's what I do. I deep focus well. And so I'm like, I'm going to go deep dive into research, and create something, and put it out. But like, I don't do the bopping or like, I don't do much of the peopling unless it's in a really structured, intentional space. So, that's really interesting. That's how I've learned to be able to be sustainable in this world, too.

LYRIC RIVERA: In the beginning, I tried joining a bunch of groups and all these things. And like, I realized it wasn't for me. It was just too much of the social stuff that is just even with other autistic people, with group dynamics, like, for me, that was just overwhelming.

I've also got social anxiety diagnosis. That probably has something to do with it. But like, I'm good in a work context and very professional. Like, we're working together on a project or, you know, we're doing a collaboration on something, and we're working towards a common goal. That's a bit easier for me, but it's like, put me in a group with 50 people or 1000s of people I'm like, "No, this is too much."

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, I'm having a thought, I'm going to cross-pollinate our ideas we've been talking about. And I'm going to, like, try and weave them together.

Here's my thought that just popped in my head, like, the spaces and the groups, like autistic spaces, autistic advocacy spaces, are we thinking through in the same way we're talking about, like, how do we make workplaces neurodiversity affirming? Are we thinking through how to make those spaces neurodiversity affirming and affirming of autistic communication styles?

LYRIC RIVERA: They're not really affirming and they're not very intersectional.

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, yes.

LYRIC RIVERA: Like, that's precisely the problem, you know? And some people aren't in a space where they're ready to engage in a way that is safe for other people. And then I think our problem is a lot of the people who start these groups aren't in a place where they know how to create those kinds of safe spaces, you know? And so, people get excited, "Oh, I just want to start a group."

And, like, it's a great idea. But a lot of people don't realize what can of worms they're opening. And these groups can grow.

Like, I had a group for a while, when I first started on Facebook. And it went from like, you know, 50 people to like 7000 people within a few months. It was like, "Ah." You know, I panicked, I closed it. I can't do this. And I was like, wasn't ready for that.

And I realized really quickly, like, because if you're having a group, you have to keep everybody safe. Like, you have a responsibility for keeping people safe. And that's just not physical safety. That is like emotional safety. There's like all of that. And I didn't feel, like, I was, like, capable of taking care of what really needs to be done to keep a group to where people really would be safe. Because really, like, ideally, people can be online 24/7 or something like that.


LYRIC RIVERA: And who has the time for that? Or you know, you have a team of unpaid moderators, with good intentions, but, you know, it's kind of tricky. And we need community spaces really, really bad. Like, we really need them.

MEGAN NEFF: We do. It's such a huge part of our healing. I think it's funny that spaces, and I think, yeah, I mean, just because we're all autistic doesn't mean we're creating a space that's autistic-friendly. And I think-

LYRIC RIVERA: Oh, yeah, no.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, so I really hope that that's something that our community sorts out in the coming years is how do we create friendly autistic spaces that are digital, because that's most accessible for many of us.

LYRIC RIVERA: And I think we will. I think, you know, we said, like, seven years ago we didn't really have a way to gather, and collect each other, and find each other, right? So, we've only really known how to find each other for probably the past five years or less. So, we've got a lot of growing pains, like as a community, as any community does. Now, we've got to figure out how to engage nicely with one another. And, you know, be mindful of the traumas that a lot of us have endured, and the way we bring our own traumas into things.

And you know that that's hard, because even when I started engaging, when I started my blog, like, I had so much crap I brought to that with me. Or maybe I wasn't even always the safe person, right? I can admit that looking back. It's like, when you start you don't kind of know. And I came with all my wounds and everything very raw, you know? It feels very real, very rough. Like, you know, it's like kind of wear my heart on my sleeve here, because trying to conceal everything, you know, pretty much almost killed me.

So, like that rawness is something I hope other people can appreciate. But at the same time, you know, it's too much sometimes for some people. So, it's interesting being all out there on the internet, because the internet is forever, right? All the mistakes, everything, it's all forever.

MEGAN NEFF: That's terrifying.

LYRIC RIVERA: Yeah, but it's been an interesting process.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, if we were… and I don't know, this is perhaps not a fair question, and please tell me if so. Perhaps that's too like, maybe this is too much of an attempt to like tie it up neatly in a bow, which I don't really believe in. But here we go.

If you were consulting with a new organization or consulting with an autistic, like, space community, and you were like, here are three things or five things you can do to increase psychological, emotional, sensory safety in your community, what are some of the things that you would prompt them to consider?

LYRIC RIVERA: I would really want them to consider doing some kind of a survey of the community members to see what areas the community members actually feel unsafe. Also, looking at the intersectionality of your community, because autism doesn't know and neurodivergent brain types, we don't have gender barriers, we don't have race barriers. You know, autistic people are, you know, all around, you know, income levels, ages, like 2 -70, to 80, you know, forever more.

So, like, all of these things, you need to consider what people are bringing with them. You know, their trauma history. You know, someone who came from a good home life, you know, so to speak, whatever good home life is, you know? Who considers they had a good childhood. They're going to have a very different experience and carry themselves different than someone who came from a violent environment, and someone who has more trauma that they carry with them.

So, like being really mindful of these differences and these things that might impact people's lives that they carry with them, that are invisible, that you cannot see. Like, being aware of the unseen.

And also, like, really realizing that emotional safety has to be a cornerstone to pretty much everything else we're doing. Because if people in any kind of organization, whether it's a community, or relationship, friendship, romance, work, it doesn't really matter what kind of relationship it is, if the people in that relationship don't feel emotional safety with one another, they cannot speak their needs, because they're not going to feel safe to do so.

So, if that emotional safety is not your core piece, and then also that comes with trust. Like, there has to be trust. Like, they have to trust that when they speak their needs, to be it's going to be handled, it's going to be respected. And it's a place where you can have that safety and trust. Those things go hand in hand. And so, like, really paying attention to that.

And after that you, you know, you can figure out the policies in your group on your own because people will tell you like what's working, what's not working. And so you can use that to figure out what are the rules of the group or what do we need to engage safely with one another?

But emotional safety really has to come first just so conversations can be genuine, and authentic, and people can speak about what their needs are or if something is bothering them. You know, it's really important to be able to speak up when something's bothering you or when you're not okay. And know that people aren't going to dismiss you and tell you you're being too sensitive.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely.


LYRIC RIVERA: Did we put it in a bow?


LYRIC RIVERA: I said did we tie it up in a bow?

PATRICK CASALE: I think you did a great job with that.

LYRIC RIVERA: Thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm just reading the energy in the room. Megan, are we at our awkward goodbye moments now?

MEGAN NEFF: I think so. I think we are. I've really enjoyed this conversation, Lyric. And I-

PATRICK CASALE: This was great.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. Thank you so much for it.

LYRIC RIVERA: It was good.

PATRICK CASALE: And can you tell everyone where they can find your book or anything else that you're offering right now because such a tremendous resource.

LYRIC RIVERA: The easiest way to find me is because there's links to everything you want to find in the menu.

PATRICK CASALE: Perfect, I love that answer. And we'll have all of that in the show notes for you so you have easy access to all of Lyric's information. You can buy their book, check out their resources, their consultation services, etc.

LYRIC RIVERA: Thank you all so much. It's really been fun. I appreciate you both

PATRICK CASALE: Thank you so much for coming on.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: I was looking at Megan out of my peripheral and being like, "Is Megan going to do the goodbye?" But I can do [CROSSTALK 00:53:03]-

MEGAN NEFF: Wait, I don't really know by now, Patrick, if you want a really awkward goodbye I will do it but you always do the goodbye.

PATRICK CASALE: You had some good shoutouts when I wasn't in that episode. So, anyway, to everyone listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast, new episodes are out every single Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. Goodbye.

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 audio book wherever audiobooks are sold available on March 19th.

Many autistic people experienced alexithymia so I definitely had to include some entries on emotions. So, here's an excerpt from the book on how to grasp difficult emotions.

SPEAKER 1: When I was in my first year of training to become a psychologist, one of the skills we learned was identifying and labeling other people's emotions. I observed classmates smoothly mastering these emotional reflection exercises while I stared down at a long list of emotion words, struggling to know what to do with them. I couldn't help but wonder why these exercises felt so difficult for me.

It wasn't until I discovered that I was autistic, that my complex relationship with emotions started to make sense. I've always understood my internal landscape through concepts, ideas, analysis, and images. In contrast, the realm of emotions felt like an alien landscape.

About half of autistic folks grapple with alexithymia, a condition causing difficulty in recognizing and naming emotions. If you can't pin down what you're feeling, boosting your emotional awareness and resilience becomes a tall order. This emotional opacity can hamper your ability to regulate emotions, understand your needs and wants, connect emotionally with others, and even connect to yourself. That's why fostering emotional awareness and literacy is essential.

Here are some practices to help you amplify emotional awareness and literacy when emotions feel elusive. Visualize. Autistic brains often lean heavily on visual processing. Look online for tools like an emotion matrix, feeling wheel, or feeling list, which can help convert abstract emotions into concrete visual concepts. You can download several of these for free at

Read. Fiction can offer valuable insights into emotions. Authors give us windows into character's emotional landscapes, decoding emotions, intentions and motivations thus enhancing emotional understanding.

Engage with music or photo prompts. Stimuli like music and photos can spark strong emotional responses. Use these prompts to practice diving deeper into your emotions, and enhancing your emotional awareness.

Journal for emotional awareness. Journaling provides an avenue for accessing your inner world in ways that spoken language often cannot. By journaling to identify and explore your emotions, you can increase your awareness of them. Additionally, you can find patterns and identify common themes, triggers, and more.

The world of emotions may seem confusing and disorienting. But with practice, intentionality, and persistence, you will find it easier to navigate. However, cultivating emotional awareness is not an overnight task. It's a journey. Some days, it might feel like you're making huge strides, while others it might seem like you're back at square one. That's okay. Patience and persistence are your allies in this process. Over time, you'll notice patterns, gain insights, and understand yourself on a deeper level. Celebrate each small victory along the way.

Every moment of awareness is a step forward on this journey of emotional literacy. Developing emotional awareness and literacy not only unlocks profound self-discovery but also ushers in a richer understanding of the world.

MEGAN NEFF: And here's another excerpt from the audiobook edition of Self-Care for Autistic People that touches on gratitude.

SPEAKER 1: I've always been sensitive to experiences where it feels as if someone is trying to manipulate an emotional response out of me, such as with motivational speakers. This is why I used to be a bit skeptical of things like gratitude practices, as they seemed like a form of self-manipulation.

However, my perspective changed when I learned the neuroscience behind them, and realized that my skepticism wasn't justified.

Gratitude practices are not about manipulating yourself to feel something that isn't real. Instead, they prime your brain to be on the lookout for the things in your life that really do bring you joy, connection, meaning, and gratitude. They help balance out your brain and correct for confirmation bias.

Your brain is naturally wired to seek out certain aspects of your environment. So, for example, if you're depressed, your mind tends to focus on negative thoughts about yourself, the world, and the future. Your brain is essentially filtering out anything that would go against your depression, and laser focusing on the negative.

Many autistic people are predisposed to view life through a more anxious or depressed lens. And cultivating gratitude can counteract that confirmation bias.

By incorporating gratitude into your life, you provide a counterbalance, allowing you to shift your focus and actively seek out moments of goodness amid the challenges of life. Rather than blocking out the reality of your experience, gratitude offers a broader perspective and help you appreciate the positive aspects that may be easily overlooked.

Starting a gratitude practice doesn't have to be a taxing endeavor. Here are three simple ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. One, think of three good things. At the end of each day list three good things that happened. They could be as simple as a beautiful sunset you saw a pleasant interaction, something delicious you ate, or something you did that you're proud of.

Two, conduct a daily review. Replay the three good things from the day after you identify them. Over time, your brain will start actively seeking out similar moments throughout the day.

Three, post gratitude reminders. Place visual reminders such as sticky notes in your environment to prompt you to pause and reflect on something you're grateful for. These practices gradually rewire your brain expanding your capacity to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of life.

Starting a gratitude practice is an intentional effort to recalibrate your thinking patterns and cultivate a more balanced outlook so you can more fully appreciate life's positive aspects.

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