Shanna Forrestall has been involved in storytelling since she was a little girl playing dress-up with her siblings and friends. She’s always been captivated by unique real-life stories and lured by the power of fables and myths to teach life truths.
Shanna has been a working professional in the entertainment industry since 2007. She has produced eight (8) short films in the US that tackle social issues, and several video projects in India to support a school for disabled children and Indian eunuchs. Shanna is now also in post-production on two additional documentary projects (on autism and mass incarceration) and also in pre-production on a few feature film projects.
Shanna is also an award-winning actress with over 100 IMDb credits and published her first children's book last year. She is also currently releasing an LP of children's bedtime stories, an LP of guided meditations, and launching an interactive art project called We Can Hear You. She is also a songwriter, and just released her first single entitled Full Moon from the album coming out in 2021 called Fire & Water - a collaboration with Jeff Gold Music.
Shanna is an avid humanitarian, volunteering after natural disasters to provide immediate relief and to fundraise and distribute long-term resources to those affected. She also utilizes independent film-making to capture the stories of survivors and relief workers to improve response efforts for the future.
She is passionate about equality and inclusion. Shanna mentors and hires young people on the autism spectrum (weekly) in her business. She also works with nonprofits and local initiatives that support abused women, animal advocacy, and any human in need.
Shanna grew up in South Louisiana but lived in Toronto for five years before returning to her home state to live until 2014. She now splits her time between Chattanooga, TN, and Los Angeles, CA. but visits New Orleans (the city she calls home) often.
Resources From This Episode
story, life, journey, people, families, children, dragon, despair, adults, feel, excited, parents, melodious, listen, lyla, writing, support, song, super, ptsd
everybody welcome back to another episode of the autism and action podcast. My name is Tosha Rollins, your host, and today I'm super, super excited to be able to announce that we have a brand new co host. He has named as Mr. Chris Hanson with life skills advocate out of Washington State. Thank you so much, Chris, for being here. I'm super excited to do the season two with you.
I am extremely excited to be here, and I so appreciate the opportunity. Um, yeah, as Tosha mentioned, this is my first episode with the autism and action Podcast. I am based out of the Puget Sound area, and she's down there and South Carolina. Just a little quick blurb about what I do. I have a transition support company for people on the spectrum. Teenagers, young adults, and I provide life skills coaching, I provide vocational support. Really the common thread is that I try to bridge the gap between employment and school. And I provide both in person and virtual support to those who who need it.
Super, super awesome. Thank you again, so much. This is going to be so awesome. So we also have a very special guest today. She is coming back. She was on season one Miss Shana from Louisiana, also in a forest all welcome to our season two first episode.
Thank you so much. I'm honored to be here to kick it off.
We're just super excited to learn all about what it is that you have going on. I know you've got your hands in a lot of projects right now. And this can really benefit a lot of parents out there and children that are affected by autism and special needs. And I can't wait to learn more about it.
Yes, I'm so excited to talk about it with you today. It's been such a crazy year, for so many people that, you know, I'm just really excited to be on the cusp of releasing these pieces that I feel like will encourage people and make them smile and laugh and whatever it is that we need to do right now. So
well, I would love for you to just share with us a little bit about, you know what it is that you're currently working on? And we'll just go from there.
Absolutely. So you know, last time I was on, I think we talked mostly about the children's stories. And those those are still rolling out. I mean, you know, I started writing them a couple years ago, I got the first book published. And I had a young autistic illustrator who helped me with that book, as well as for other boys who ended up helping us with the digital content. And then that just kind of started this flurry of children's stories that just kind of came out of my soul. And we've been creating audio versions of those. And we had the album ready to come out last year. And then we kind of rushed up some things because we knew that as soon as COVID hit and parents lost some of the support systems that they were having, you know, the families who are talking to you, they were like, Oh my gosh, right. Like we're at home or we don't have the support we usually have, we don't have the programs we usually have. And we knew that parents were going to need extra resources. So we went ahead and push those out. And we have a series of we call them bedtime stories that can be used anytime. But a lot of people like to use them for nap time or when a child is, you know, frustrated or needs to calm down a little bit. They're very soothing, melodious stories that I've written and recorded. And then my producing partner, Jeff gold is amazing. He's been an instrumentalist. For many, many years, he writes original instrumental music and his music is highly effective with young people on the spectrum. He figured this out by his nephew, who is on the spectrum. And he started to play his music and he would calm down when he wouldn't calm down any other time. And so he is his heart was music. So he was like, You know what, I want to reach as many young people as I can, and as many children as I can, and bring, bring love and hope and joy and all those things to him to them. So we've partnered together and those songs are out on all the outlets on Amazon, iTunes, and what all you know, just ask Siri or somebody, it's all out there. But we have like seven songs, we have a few more rolling out and a big one that we're working on that has like songs in an imaginary language. And we have singers from other countries who are singing on it, like it continues to expand and evolve. And so that's been a really exciting part of the journey was those children's stories, which kind of kicked a lot of this off.
That is so incredible. And such a chain reaction of events and so needed like we do need a way too nervous to nurture our nervous system and what better way to do that with music and stories.
And here's the thing is like, you know, when a family's when a family's in turmoil or stress, like everybody's affected especially during COVID when we're all stuck together and confined spaces, we're not allowed to do the things that normally would be our stressfully so my heart is really for Mamas and papas out there who are just can't get to the gym, trying to homeschool my sisters as a nurse and she's trying to homeschool. You know, two boys oversee them. Her husband just had emergency surgery. She couldn't even go to the hospital and be with him like there is stuff going on in families that is just so stressful right now. And the stories are good for kids, but I have to say they're good for adults too. If I feel stressed, I will listen to my own stories of time and that sounds crazy, but it's true. I also have adult friends who will text me When they're stressing, I'll send it back to them. They'll text me later. Like, I listen to your story every night now. Because all it is is a melodious sound and a positive message that can apply to anyone, children or adults. So we're trying to create things that you know parents can listen to. It won't drive them crazy. It's not like the Shark Song. It's none of that. Is is happy is peaceful, is simple. And I think soothing for all of us. And I think every one of us could use a little bit of soup this year.
Yes, absolutely. And I know Chris, with you working with people one on one, do you see a lot of what's going on with Shannon was just talking about
Oh, man. Absolutely. I mean, I mean, I think we're all I think all my clients across the border are just tired of being so confined. And they're just so dang stressed out, as are their their parents and supporters for that matter, teachers too. So anything that we can, you know, do to kind of help them regulate and feel safe and feel loved and cared about. I think that's, that's awesome. It's all awesome. And one thing I kind of wanted to ask you, Shana, is that you have a new story coming out here soon in a wireless journey to the dragon name despair. I love that title. I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about your inspiration for that. Absolutely.
The story is really important to me, because Tasha knows I lost my husband last year in May, unexpectedly. And it just dealing with the grief of that on top of COVID on top of like, all the things that happened last year was really difficult. So I got, you know, as I navigated through my journey, I always try to use my art to heal myself first I figure if it does something for me, then it might help someone else. So there was a day where I was, I was sitting there and I was just like, you know, I just got to a place of like, I feel despair. And I looked it up and despair just means no hope. And I was like, this is kind of silly, because I have a supportive community of people who love me. I have everything I need physically, like, I'm not hungry, have a place to live, I'm safe, you know, but I was like, but I still feel despair. So I kind of dug into that. And I'm like, Well, what is despair. And it's literally just feeling like there is no hope. And that's what happens when we get into a depression, or we suffered a trauma or a loss, you know, sometimes we can just sink into that pit. So I sat there that day, and I was like, I went to the beach. And I was like, I'm gonna sit here until I figure out how to deal with despair. Because I was like, if I don't deal with despair, I might not make it. You know what I mean? And I was like, I don't know what the trick is to do this, but I'm gonna figure it out. So I went down, and I just sat there. And like two and a half hours later, there was the story. And for me, you know, life lessons, and messages often come to me in stories. And I see the world in symbols and figures and, and I just have this imagination, and I've always had. And so as I sat there, you know, I thought of myself and I was like, I feel like a child right now I feel unable to cope with despair. And then I was like, Well, what is despair? And I was like, okay, it's a dragon. It's just this big, scary dragon that's just screaming at me. And I feel like this child looking up at it, like, I don't know what to do with this. You know, kind of like the whole David and Goliath thing is like, this feels so much bigger than me. But I started writing lydell story. And when I did, I didn't know what was going to happen. I had no idea there was no forethought to the story. Like oh, she's gonna start here and end here. I had no idea. I just started writing. And I was just crying and crying and crying. And I would like say it into my phone. And then I would like try to type it in. And I'm just like, sad type. So like two and a half hours later, this story came out and I was like, Oh my gosh, it's what I realized through letting my own creative subconscious work was that this journey is a journey that we all take.
At some point in our life, we're going to face a moment of despair, a season of despair, a series of episodes that make us want to give up, and how we handle that and how we go towards it or run from it. how we approach it or avoid it really determines who we become for the rest of our lives. So when Lyla starts out on this journey, she's the only one who goes she hears the song The dragon sings, everybody's afraid of and all the villagers are afraid of and they tell stories about how dangerous he is, and how scary is and if you go up there, you'll lose everything. And she, instead of believing all of that, listened to the song and thought there's something more to this. So she starts out on this journey. It's not an easy journey. She overcomes a lot of obstacles. She's alone for the first time. But along the way, she sees views that no one in the town has ever seen before because she has to climb the mountain to get to the dragon. So she gets starts to get perception. She starts to see things and go man, people down there need to know this, right? They've never seen this view. they've ever seen what our talent looks like, Oh my gosh, change your perspective, right. It also challenges her throughout that she goes through these challenges and she really realizes that she actually has some things in her Arsenal to use to help her on her journey. You know, she has a magic stone, she has a magic thing. And you know, she uses these things and figures out how to change her own perspective. It's all about us becoming adults for ourselves, mothering, fathering sister and brother in ourselves. Because at the end of the day, sometimes you have to write or you find it, or you create it, you do it. So Laila does all these things that she eventually gets to the dragon, and they have a confrontation that changes her life forever. And what it is, is her coming of age moment, it's where Lyla determines, I can do this. And I know who I am. And she comes into this deep understanding. And one thing I love about the story is that it's super allegorical, it doesn't tell you how to do it specifically, it leaves you on a journey, so you can find it for yourself. And for me, that's the best part. Because I don't have all the answers, I can't tell you how to grieve. I can't tell you how to recover. I can only share my story. But my story I had to figure out, you know, and it's so it's like, all I'm doing is trying to encourage people, children or adults that if something is scary, and if something is dark, don't run from it. Because if we move towards it, and we find the truth, and we really get honest with ourselves about how do I feel? Why do I feel this way? Is this normal? What can I do about it, only then can we process through it and move forward. Otherwise, we stay stuck, and we stay children in these parts of her life, instead of turning into a woman like she eventually does. When she comes down from the mountain. She's a woman. And she sings that song that the dragon saying, and she understands now what a little more about what life is about, you know, and it's like we want to so look at life and try to prepare for perfection. And we think we're going to have the perfect marriage and the perfect home and the perfect life. And you know what, that doesn't exist. We're setting ourselves up for failure, when we don't expect obstacles, and we don't expect challenges. So it's better if we hear it, acknowledge it, even go towards it, because then we learn the truth that life is trying to teach us. And then we come out on the other side with hope. And with resilience, and with hopefully, you know, maturity that we can then share and use to encourage other people in their journey of self love, self acceptance, self healing, all the things that we're all trying to do. So that's what the story is about. And again, it was just me trying to work through my stuff. But I think at the end of the day, it's going to touch some other people. I can't listen to it without weeping. We sit in the studio, we only work on it, Jeff and I I mean, and it's just, it's because it taps into something. And I think kids are going to benefit, they're going to enjoy the journey, they're going to see the visuals in their head and on paper when I get Matt to, to illustrate everything, but I think it's going to touch the adults that listen to it too. And challenge us all to go after that. And to face our despair, whatever that is,
I could definitely see how a lot of parents with children affected by autism could really benefit from this because grief is really, it's a big topic that we don't talk about, you know, and how things are different, lifelong, and what our big picture was for our family versus what it actually is, you know, right? See this really, really helping a lot of people.
Well, we're excited to get it out there. This one, I think we're gonna roll out the audio pretty soon. And then we're gonna look to try to get the book published, because every time I publish a book, like I was telling you, we hire young people on the spectrum for that process, we hire illustrators, and digital content creators, we match them with professionals who mentor them, and we create a project and then the book itself, when it sells any proceeds go back into hiring and mentoring those boys that I'm working with. Yeah, we're gonna hope to publish as well. But yeah, we're really excited about this one, it's special. And I just, it's what helps get me through. But I just think it's a special story that everybody can relate to. And so we're excited about getting it out.
Well, I really like the idea that like, we're gonna face obstacles, no matter what we do anyway. And so we might, we might as well find the inner strength to deal with it. Like you said, avoiding it, we taking it head on, I think, because it is the alternative is, is to sort of cower or to try away and that doesn't necessarily lead to as much growth I don't think, yeah, I'm really excited to listen to that as it comes out and, and where where would be maybe the best place for people to do that.
It'll be everywhere. When they come out, we put them through a publishing house. So they come out on you know, Amazon, iTunes, you can like buy it for 99 cents, or you can listen to it free on Spotify, Pandora, all of the outlets, you can listen to it again and again for free. And we always put it on youtube for free as well. Like we just want people to have access to the stories and to the songs. If they go to the website Mike calm world. There's links to all of the stories that are out so far, and it'll tell what's coming next and release dates and all that and that'll keep in we try to put all the links for all the outlets so whatever you listen to you build it just click but otherwise it's out there. You just search for my name or Jeff's name, our stuff is out there. But you know, I wanted to say something one on one You just said it. There's a there's a singer named Jesse Ray rez, I think it's how you say it out of Canada, and she has a song off of one of her albums. And she talks about love. And she says, you know, the only options are we either break up when we're young, or we say goodbye, we're old. And it's like, I think that speaks to our expectations. You know, it's like in life, we, for some reason, we, we think that things are going to be forever, or we want them to be so we just kind of live in that naivety that this is going to be forever, and we don't think about it Indy, you know, and one thing I can say is, I know when I met my husband, he was my second husband, he was the love of my life. And we had a beautiful relationship. And we lived every day like it was our last. We never didn't tell each other, we love each other. We lived in peace and harmony and love and appreciation. And we did that because of our life experience before. But, but I am so glad that I can look back now and not have regrets about that, that I did say it that I did show it that I did feel it, you know, but we need to understand that all the good things in our lives. You know, even the hard things when you're in the middle of it. Sometimes you're like, I can't wait for this season. And you know, so many people saying that about this COVID season. And I understand it's hard. But I think there are going to be some things we miss about it. Because what is it teaching us? You know, it's changed my whole art, you know, what I'm focused on as far as hard for so many people have changed careers. So many people have reconnected with their family or actually gotten honest with themselves about where they are. So even in the hard times, I think, you know, setting our expectation knowing that things don't last forever. And the best thing we can do is mine that situation for gratitude, and truth and growth. Because it's not going to be perfect. But there may be a day where we go Hey, remember when you remember when we could stay at home with our kids more? Remember? Right? Yeah, so there's gonna be good things that we miss about this time as well. And I think in life, that's what it's about. Perspective right?
I love the positive approach. That's that's so that's so needed right now.
Absolutely. Well, my calm world is the website that everyone can go to. And I think Chris, we had a question that we asked Shana to in the podcast recording today that we're going to kind of send off. Do you want to
ask her? Go ahead. Tosha.
What advice would you give to parents and families? I know you just gave us a really great advice. But what advice would you give to parents and families affected by autism? For the remainder of this year? What What advice would you have for them?
You know, one of the things I think I've learned recently is about PTSD, you know, and how what PTSD does is it puts a loop in our head that things are always going to be the same. So you can be in a situation that's similar, and it's not the same. But you get triggered and you react with PTSD, right? What I would say to Americans, and to families and to parents, and to myself every day, is don't go into 2021 with PTSD, let's not assume that things are going to be the same. Let's not, let's not create the same things that we don't want, let's focus on what we do want, let's assume that things are going to be different, that they're going to be better, that we're going to find more joy, more love, more experience, more gratitude, you know, let's be intentional about creating a different 2021. And I think that, you know, that's the thing is like, it's so easy when you're in a tough time to get caught up, you know, in the darkness, or in the sadness or in whatever that negativity is, is trying to pull you down. But maybe look outside of it, find something, find someone find a song, a story, a piece of art, go for a walk, you know, get a new pet, whatever it is that you need to do, to give yourself a new perspective, and to not get caught in that PTSD of the bad stuff, or the hard stuff that happened before. Just because it feels a little similar, doesn't mean it's going to be the same. It could change and it could change drastically just like that. And everything could be way better. And there's always a payoff after a hard time. There's always a good time. And the beauty of that is we're so grateful, right? How grateful Are we going to be to go to a concert or a hug and kiss all your friends like the pieces right? It's gonna be so beautiful. And that's the payout for this hard season that we've been in. Let's look for the payout. Let's look for the positive things.
There's a bunch of them coming.
Loving look for the positive. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today, Shanna. To learn more. You've got so much coming out. I'm sure we'll do this again in the future. Thanks for having me on.
It's so great to see you guys. You too.
Now, we would love to hear from you.
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Let's have a discussion in the comments below or head over to the Autism in Action Facebook group. We would love to hear from you!