This month's blog article was featured in the March 2024 issue of our digital newsletter, Aspire Wire. 

By Brett Mulder, PsyD
Director, Adult Services

The word “empathy” originates from the 19th century where German philosophers aimed to describe our experience of a work of art, using the word “Einfühlung.” The German word translates to English as “feeling in” or “in-feeling.” Experiencing movies, plays, paintings and sculptures provides us with unique opportunities to feel into the experience of others and their stories.  

On January 20th, 2024, the Newton Theatre Company put on a play called The Monologue Project:  Neurodivergent Voices. Regrettably, I discovered the play too late to see the production. However, I was grateful to have the opportunity to interview one of the cast members, Rick Halloran, who is currently in his last year in college and a prior Aspire participant.  Below is an edited transcript of our conversation together, to share about this important work of art and hopefully to see more in the future. 

How did you get involved with this play?

Last summer, before my senior year, a close friend from high school reached out from the Newton Theatre. The director was asked to direct a monologue project based on people’s neurodivergence. It was taken from the monologue projects that have focused on identities such as being African American or LGBTQ. I enjoy theatre and I am neurodivergent and thought it would be awesome to speak about my background and life story—what it is like to be neurodivergent. I worked on how to put together a monologue and how to make my voice heard.

What were some of the main themes of your monologue? 

It was about inclusion. During my monologue I explored how important it is for others to feel included and to be paid more attention to. Often it is easy to feel isolated in our bubble—among people who go to school or work with you and who don’t know you have a disability. Involving everyone in the school environment or job process is always important. Not accepting others and not giving the invite to important events is discriminatory. It makes you feel bad and unwanted. 

What was the most meaningful part about being involved with this project?

I felt like I was included by getting asked to do this project. Since I knew I was available during the long winter break, I could do it with everyone else. It felt like an equal opportunity all around. I don’t always perform or act due to my busy schedule.

What was it like to work with others in the cast?

This was a solo project. I came up with this monologue for me, but working with the other cast members was very rewarding and worth my time. I knew some of the people from middle and high school days. I enjoyed getting to know new people and seeing old faces. It was great to keep them up to date with what is going on with my life. When they were listening to my speech, they got more of a sense of what my life was like growing up as neurodivergent. 

What was it like for those in the audience to hear your and other’s stories?

Many families with individuals with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities attended. They were looking to learn about each cast member’s story and hear about each person’s neurodivergence. Others in the audience were neurotypical and didn’t know what it is like to have a disability—it was supportive that they came out to hear from us and support us that way. I think the biggest impact was that the speeches were inspiring and a motivation to keeping doing the things we are doing. 

What personal strengths are connected to your neurodivergence?

I’m good at remembering a lot of things about other people. I know a lot of facts and I also have learned how to be respectful of others—my friends, coworkers, and close friends. It is all about thinking about them too—not only myself. It is important that you put yourself first, but I can also take consideration of my family members, especially if something negative is going on. I am hardworking, especially in college and with my part-time jobs. I can perform many tasks without hesitation, and sometimes I need more direction if the task is more complex. I am able to get my work done.

What are your personal goals for the future?

This is my last year in college. In a few months, I am supposed to graduate from UMASS with a bachelors, majoring in Theatre and a minor in Education. My goals are to find a full-time career so I can make some money and learn more about what work life is like. Eventually, I would like to learn financial skills and about investing—as these are important to know as I go into adult life after college.