Neurodiverse Creator Joe Biel – A Perfect Example of Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity for Someone with Autism, Episode 81

Have you ever heard of neurodiversity? I hadn’t. So here is one definition: it’s a range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders). This brings me to this week’s badass guest, Joe Biel, a neurodiverse creator. Biel is the founder and CEO of Microcosm Publishing and co-founder of the Portland Zine Symposium.

Joe Biel is a self-made autistic publisher and filmmaker who draws origins, inspiration, and methods from punk rock. You will want to learn more about a man who fired his distributor to self-distribute in 2018 – which, for a publisher of his size, is completely unheard of in our industry. Despite that, he was able to grow the firm from around 10% per year to 60% per year.  

Joe teaches in college and his books are even used in colleges, yet Joe didn’t technically earn his high school degree. Hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll be a better person for it and reach the ultimate conclusion that despite our differences in brain functionality, or behaviorally, there is a place of worth for every single one of us!

More about Joe Biel

Joe has been featured in Time Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, Art of Autism, Utne Reader, Oregonian, Broken Pencil, Punk Planet, Bulletproof Radio, Spectator (Japan), G33K (Korea), and Maximum Rocknroll. 

He is the author of People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable Meaningful Book Business, Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business on the Spectrum, Manspressions: Decoding Men’s Behavior, Make a Zine!: When Words and Graphics Collide, The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting, Proud to be Retarded, Bicycle Culture Rising, and more. Joe is also the director of five feature films and hundreds of short films, including Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland, $100 & A T-Shirt, and the Groundswell film series. 

Share this episode with someone who is on the autism spectrum or loves someone on the spectrum.


Solution: Joe founded the company Microcosm in 1996 to create the resources lacking for him as an at-risk, runaway kid. And it became a big help to solve other people’s problems as well.

Neurodiversity: We all have our own insecurities, but we also have to build things from the ground up, not knowing how they’re done “correctly.”

Support: Having the support of a publisher is really important because it can help close those gaps between the emotional distance and the decisions that need to be made to bring the book to its proper audience. 

Learning: As an autistic person, having the opportunity to make your own mistakes and fail is the best way to learn because you have a different kind of cognitive development.

Imperfectionism: You don’t need to get a rubber stamp of approval in order to have your ideas deemed good enough. 

Curiosity: Just because one way of doing something works for a community of people doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to apply the same thinking.

Grit: What was freeing for Joe was he didn’t feel the weight of other people’s expectations – and this gave him more determination to show it could be done.

Nothing means anything:  It doesn’t matter what you do so you should do the thing you want to do because there might not be a tomorrow. 

Consistency: An activity cycle is the opposing part of your day from your sleep cycle. People with autism struggle when surprises happen, or they run into unexpected hardship. That’s why activity cycles and sleep cycles are needed for consistency and predictability.

Overwhelm: All autistic people experience 400% more stimulus. It means they notice more things, smell more things, see more things, and hear more things. And so, a lot of times, the brain is completely overwhelmed by that data.

Coping: A meltdown happens when an autistic person cannot cope with their environment, and so they’re panicking. One of the major ways autistic people cope is to have scripts that mitigate surprises by knowing what to do, not becoming unexpectedly hungry, taking medication, etc.

Systematized: It’s helpful to break things into smaller, more manageable tasks. It makes it much easier for autistic people to break down those surprises.

Reward: Giving them rewards whenever they’ve accomplished a certain thing helps people with autism stay focused. 

Qualifications: Those certifications and the pedigrees aren’t worth anything in the publishing industry because it doesn’t teach you critical thinking or attention to detail. Learn it in yourself by finding a way that works rather than just repeating a series of steps somebody else made up.

Parenting: Parents have a habit of coddling their children because they don’t want them to get hurt because they only see vulnerability. But without that, the kid doesn’t learn from those mistakes. 

Learning from pain: Kids have to get hurt in order to learn from things, otherwise they’re just going to end up isolated and not understanding why things aren’t working out. They need that perfect distance of being loved and supported, but yet able to have the space and distance to make mistakes. 

Purpose: If you take away a kid’s meaning and purpose, even if that’s playing video games, that kid is going to be miserable and resent you forever. So help them find what they want, rather than what you want for them.

Mindfulness: Oftentimes, someone with autism is not necessarily imposing on themself limitations, but it’s those who don’t identify with being autistic that are the ones pushing on those limitations. 

Links to continue to learn from Joe :

Follow and connect with Joe Biel:

Continue to listen to An Interview With Melissa Llarena podcast episodes 

Continue To Explore My Other Binge-Worthy Episodes

Books mentioned

The Autism Relationships Handbook by Joe Biel

Unfuck Your Brain: Getting Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers with Science by Dr. Faith Harper

Want to continue the conversation?

Find me on Instagram! You can read my daily mini-blogs centered on the same three topics that my podcast features: creativity, courage, and curiosity. I believe that without all three it would be impossible to solve the challenges we were each uniquely made to solve. Wouldn’t you agree? I’m easy to find on Instagram @careeroutcomesmatter

Rather keep it professional?

Let’s connect on LinkedIn. I encourage every single podcast listener to connect with me.




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Melissa Llarena

Melissa Llarena is an author, imagination coach, consultant, speaker, and contributor to ForbesWomen articles that have garnered 4 million + views. She is also the host of Unimaginable Wellness, the podcast for entrepreneurs, founders, and creators who are also moms. Featured guests include GaryVee and Beth Comstock. Melissa holds a psychology degree from New York University, an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and a Transformational Coaching Academy certificate. She is training to become a meditation practitioner. Melissa lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three sons. Visit

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