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Meet Emanuel Frowner. Ever since he was a little boy, Emanuel was... different. He had trouble making friends. He had trouble looking you in the eye. His brother thought he needed psychological help, but his dad didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong, and worried that a diagnosis would hold him back. Flash forward 25 years, Emanuel’s now a grown man who’s sought a psychological diagnosis. What he finds out will change everything. But the tough question remains, did his dad’s attitude end up helping or hurting him in the end? Reporter Gregory Warner takes us on a search for answers.

Guests:

Emanuel Frowner and Gregory Warner

Comments [36]

willow from NorCal

My husband and I found out recently that he has asperger's syndrome. He is 34 years old. He never had any of the typical physical symptoms and so went undiagnosed until he saw a psychologist last December. He struggles in social situations, has difficulty reading social cues and can be brutally honest. An AS person cannot be fixed through emotional therapy, but they can learn through behavioral training. Here is an example: I have to tell him that it is ok (and NOT a lie, exactly) to say something nicely rather than bluntly.
We know that we will have to face many challenges, but at least now we have a toolbox of knowledge that we can use to help us handle whatever comes up...

Jul. 10 2013 04:30 PM
Phyllis from Near but not in Lake Tahoe!

Wonderful program....

Oct. 13 2012 03:01 AM
nikechic619 from Charleston, SC

Why is everyone so impressed with public school? Dad, who is obviously a wise guy, (there is a difference between educated and wise :o)), did the right thing, he advocated for his child and put him first. I hate when people say that home school children get no "socialization." According to who's standards may I ask? Socialization that teaches them bad manners? People need to realize that government run public school is not the greatest, and it teaches our children very biased information. People get all hung up on socialization. Him and his dad obviously did not live in a cave. I am sure he was plenty socialized with family and friends that loved him. He was also socialized around bullies. Enough so that he has probably learned never to be one himself.

May. 13 2012 10:00 PM
Kal from Atlanta

I've seen a lot of disagreements over the decision Emmanuel's father made and I think it varies on a case by case basis. My brother has Asperger's syndrome, though it's more severe than Emmanuel's. He was diagnosed around pre-school and my parents did their best to help him any way they could, but my father insisted that he be treated as "normally" as possible by the education system. He briefly went to special education but for several years had someone assisting him. He's currently in his first year of college, living on campus with three other roommates.

As his older brother, I disagreed with how my father handled the situation sometimes. My brother WAS bullied, and though several of his peers are nice to him and come up to talk to him, he doesn't really have any friends. It's hard for him to speak to people he doesn't know, and even some he knows fairly well, though he's improving. My family still has no idea how close to a "normal" life he'll ever have, but it's pretty clear that I'll be taking care of him in some form or another for the rest of my life.

Essentially, he's had a bit from both worlds. He was diagnosed very early and has received what help my parents could afford, but like Emmanuel's father my dad insisted he go through the public education system. His reasoning was that no one will ever be able to shelter him for his whole life. It's better to prepare him now for life after school by simply putting him through as much of it as possible. He's had some bad experiences with other students, but at least he knows what to expect.

I've heard of other stories of people who improve and eventually become "normal" because of early intensive care. My brother is constantly improving, but he'll always need help. Autism is a specturm and everyone will behave and react differently to different treatments. I'm glad to hear that the solution Emmanuel's family came up with for him seems to have turned out for the best.

Sep. 20 2011 09:49 PM
Kathy from Utah

Could not disagree more with the conclusion this story seems to come to. My older (by 2 1/2 years) brother wasn't properly diagnosed until he was 14 with Pervasive Developmental Disorder with autistic tendencies. Still, from birth, my parents knew something was wrong.

He cried all the time, hardly slept, didn't mold to your body when you picked him up, didn't make eye contact, didn't learn to speak until he was 4 (he learned the same time I did), and had a variety of other behaviors that pointed to an underlying issue.

Unlike your guest, even without a diagnosis, my mom pushed for help. My brother was in a developmental preschool at 2, but went to the normal kindergarten at 5. He was relentlessly teased and bullied in school to the point of permanent physical injury when he was 14. At that point, my mom, (who'd been pushing for intervention all this time), pulled him out of school and refused to send him back or teach him at home. She insisted the district fulfill their mandated responsibility to educate him and demanded he be placed in special ed regardless of his high intelligence.

His attending school with physically and mentally ill children helped him learn empathy and how to understand what people want through body language as so many didn't speak. He did intensive behavioral work, learning to make eye contact, remembering people's names, asking questions about other people, recognizing when he was dominating a conversation, etc.

When he was a senior in high school, after several years of hard work, he fully mainstreamed back into all regular classes and was awarded Special Education Student of the Year. He went on to serve a 2-year mission for our church (which is nothing but talking and interacting with others), to build friendships, to date, to marry, and to raise three children of his own. He will be 40 next year, and if you met him, you would have no idea of his childhood troubles. He's just a friendly, kind, funny, intelligent, outgoing man.

When he was a child, he did have some savant tendencies, like your guest. His were in music and memorization, though. He could play any tune on the piano just by hearing it once and actually wrote several symphonies before the age of 10. He could also look at a piece of paper and then ace a test on the information on it a few minutes later.

He even entered a talent contest with a composition of his own in the sixth or seventh grade. He was disqualified, though, because the judges refused to believe that the recording (with multiple instruments) was made completely by him. It was, by the way. He was self-taught on all the instruments (other than piano) and did the sound mixing with the use of several cassette players.

Today, he’s not a savant, but he behaves as any other "normal" person. It's like the savant part of his mind has been replaced by the social part. He says it's a fair tradeoff.

Dec. 03 2010 02:56 PM
Nate Turner

Byron's book does sound interesting, but...
If a nasty letter from Tyson counts as proof that he's on the right track, would a letter from Tyson filled with encouragement and praise count as proof that he was on the wrong one?

Jun. 02 2010 10:57 PM
marilee from canada

This is a wonderful story. It really hit home for me in a lot of ways. I am always very moved by parents who are willing to sacrifice for their children, especially when their sacrifices have such positive outcomes. The willing commitment that Emanuel's father had to his son reminds me of the same extreme commitment that my parents had when they were raising me. My parents faced similar difficult choices regarding education when they were raising me (because I had a learning disability) and I feel that I owe them for everything that I've accomplished.

I like that this story also takes a good look at possible-mistakes and arguable-mistakes that can be made when parenting, because no real-life story is perfect and others can learn from others mistakes. But, when it comes to any possible-mistakes that were made by Emanuel's father in this story, in the end, I would ascribe no fault what-so-ever to the father. Emanuel's father is a hero for making the choices that he did, and his son was able to reach his full potential in a large part due to the choices that his father made. This is a very heart-warming and very encouraging story.

This story also hit home for me because, although I have always had a learning disability, it has taken me a long time to truly understand the diagnosis. But, now, as an adult, I truly understand my learning disability, and that understanding allows me advocate for myself and to seek resources that allow me to succeed in life.

I think that this story is both an inspiration to parents and students. Any parent who is facing difficult decisions regarding education for their child should listen to this story and any student who feels very different from other students should also listen to this story. It is very inspiring.

May. 29 2010 02:46 AM
Rick Maida from Vallejo, CA

So where can I find Mr. Byron Frowner's book "Einstein's error"?

May. 13 2010 04:17 AM
Julia from Oakland, CA

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Emmanuel and family.
We have a son who has been diagnosed quite high functioning ASD, he is also a bright, lovely, and extremely sweet kid (who just turned 10). I think every case is unique, and, fundamentally, the greatest "intervention" any parent can give is love, care and acceptance. Would it have been helpful to have more social interactions and more skills classes earlier? Possibly. Though we can't really know. One thing is sure, he seems like a great kid now!

Aug. 27 2009 01:59 PM
Lulu from WNYC

Hi Maceiej. It's the reporter, Gregory Warner, who asks Emanuel to take a sip of water. I'm pretty sure he did this just because as we were testing Emanuel's voice on the microphones at the beginning of the interview, he noticed his voice was a bit scratchy and some water might help! We chose to include that moment in the piece, because it was such an "Emanuel" moment. It revealed Emanuel's sweetness, even in taking a sip of water, Emanuel decided to thank Greg. Why? Not sure exactly. Perhaps out of nervousness or just gentleness.

Jul. 10 2009 04:44 PM
Maciej Bliziński from Dublin, Ireland

One bit of this segment is curious. Jad asks Emanuel: "Can you take a sip of water for me?". I can hear somebody taking a sip of water and Emanuel says "Thank you". Jad answers "Don't thank me." I can't quite make sense of the whole exchange. First, why would one guy ask another guy to take a sip of water? It feels surreal. Was it a trick to confuse Emanuel? Was it something random on intentional from Jad's side? If it was intentional, where did Jad get the idea? Also, why did Emanuel try to thank Jad? What for exactly?

May. 09 2009 08:57 AM
Chris Heaney from Austin, TX

Thank you, Radio Lab, thank you, Gregory Warner, but most of all, Thank You, Frowners. This was a gift.

Mar. 28 2009 10:33 PM
Vida from Johannesburg, South Africa

Well done to Greg Warner for this inspiring and touching story!
I'm glad that it turned out well for Emmanuel, and can understand that his father's choice was motivated by love for his son.
His brother must be commended also, for his love and concern for his brother, and for taking a bold step to get him help when their father was ill.
I hope it will help many others in similar situations, to give them hope and maybe also, just the prod they need to seek help.

Mar. 26 2009 05:52 AM
Maia C from Ausitn, TX

Emmanuel - Thank you for this. My favorite part was when you describe yourself as a child being "nicer" than others and being sensative. That is exactly how I describe my 9-year old son. He is, and has always been, the nicest person I know. He was always a different breed of cat - as I explain to people. He had/has many of the same experiences (eye contact, speech differences, ets..) but has overcome so much in the past few years. We started with Catholic school (just like his mother...), then Montessori, public school - all were complete disasters. The kids were mean, the teachers distant or uncaring, I too saw a beginning of the loss of his innocence. If only people would take the time to get to know him, they would appreciate what a wonderful, gentle, brilliant soul he is. He was diagnosed with Asperger's after the third school - althuogh he doesn't know, it. I also don't want him burdened by labels or thinking he's different in a bad or damaged way - he isn't, he is just him. The diagnosis has helped me to better understand him - and what he needs and how I can help him. We found (lucked into) a terrific school that takes all kids how they come and really do get to know them individually. (Here is the website --> www.samschool.org) It has been a God-send for us. He is so happy. He is still the friendliest person at school. Thank you again - and thanks to your brother. What he did took great courage and shows deep love. I am very sorry to hear about your grandmother. How proud she must have been of you. I am proud of you and I've only just met you on the radio. :-)

Feb. 12 2009 06:24 PM
Ida from Brooklyn

Wow, this story impacted me deeply.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2nd grade, and the analysts decided I was smart enough to deal with it. My mom had no reason to second-guess the analysis. She did look into special education classes, but the private school I went to didn’t offer any.

This story touched me deeply because I can relate to it on a few levels. It was made clear that the father was acting with the best interests of his son in mind, making special efforts to educate him. While in the past I was mad at my parents, understanding that they made informed decisions with my interests in mind helps me find creative options for both reckoning with difficult memories and addressing my needs now. Emanuel excelled in college, demonstrating the tendencies that I also exhibit of learning to overcompensate and excel despite imperfect conditions. The story also indicates that the ability to adjust and overcompensate with academic and professional achievements often comes at the cost of being socially adjusted and happy, something I struggle with on a daily basis.

After having done research on dyslexia and hearing stories like this that echo my experience, I feel confident in finding help for my social anxieties. It's hard to involve my parents in the process because they think I am fine and don't need help. I think they might be scared that they made a wrong choice. They did the best they could and offered me every opportunity possible, but their assertion that I am fine means that I will need to work on my own for a while to address my issues and involve them later when I am ready.

I like being dyslexic. Knowing that that's what it is helps me identify the strengths in it as well as the weaknesses.

Thanks Emmanuel for sharing your story. I think you faced much greater challenges than I have and I congratulate you for confronting them.

Jan. 17 2009 11:27 PM
Debbie Campbell from Brooklyn, NY

Thanks for sharing your story Emmanuel. You are very fortunate to have a father like yours. I pleased to know more about you.
--Debbie
from Adaptations group

Jan. 17 2009 02:34 PM
Pat Driscoll from San Diego, CA

I think a better title for this story would have been "Course of Treatment."

The "diagnosis" seems more a administrative/bureaucratic imprimatur than anything else.

All parties knew that something was impacting the child's life. His father chose a non-standard course of treatment for him that seems to have been absolutely successful except for social aspects.

Could his course of treatment have been modified and improved by adding a social component through church or scouts or some social agency? Perhaps.

What seems obvious from the story, however, is the almost guaranteed failure that the standard course of treatment in school promised.

Why should the parent trust the school to do the right thing, the best thing, offer a successful course of treatment, when the school could not protect the child from physical abuse on the school premises in the first place?

Would there a locked fence around the Special Ed classes?

Would there be escorts home?

Is the price of a decent, protective environment in school that one submits to an official diagnosis?

Is a label necessary for enough funding, enough resources for a school to do a job it was supposed to be doing all along?

That's what it all seems to come down to:
"If you accept our diagnosis, our label, we'll try to help you with extra resources. If you don't, we won't."

"Without a label, we can't help you."

Can you fault the father for developing his own course of treatment?

Jan. 09 2009 09:08 PM
Soledad Robledo from Santiago

Thanks for sharing your amazing story.
Problems arise in all homes. Then we have to take sensible decisions as parents thinking that they're the best solutions.
Your dad is a super hero! And your brother a supportive friend.

Jan. 04 2009 10:45 AM
Christine from San Diego, CA

I heard your program on NPR all the way across the country in sunny San Diego, CA. My little cousin has Asperger's and I must tell you how inspiring it was to listen to your academic achievements. Congratulations on getting your degree from college...something I haven't even done yet. Your story gives me hope for my cousin to achieve a lot in life. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Jan. 03 2009 03:31 AM
Rosey from San Diego, CA

Thank you, Emanuel for sharing your story. Not only does it serve as insipration to anyone who listens, but it also provides parents such as myself strength as we raise wonderful and beautiful people such as yourself. Listening to your story on the radio yesterday as I sat in my car parked on the street, I felt relief, validation, and not hope but rather pride; pride in you, pride in my son, pride in myself. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

Dec. 31 2008 06:05 PM
Carl from Portland, Oregon

Beautiful story about beautiful people who love one another. What more is there to say?
I worked with special ed kids for years, many asperger kids. Schools are brutal institutions for anyone different and while Emanuel may have missed social interaction, he also missed the brutality. The stress placed on mainstreamed sped kids is unconscionable. Three cheers for Dad.

Dec. 24 2008 02:10 AM
Ben Wolinsky from Upper West Side

Very moving, to say the least. I guess you can't blame your Dad for not wanting a formal diagnosis. I've known parents of autistic kids who were afraid of labels. I've seen District-75 classes that are disaster-zones. Autistic kids can be taken advantage of if the other kids in the self-contained class are street-smart and savvy.

But on another note: Emmanuel, your Dad is a GENIUS!!!!!! That letter from DeGrasse-Tyson PROVES there's merit to you Dad's theories! I guarantee you, top scholars only write nasty responses when their "intellectual dominance" is threatened. Keep up the work, it'll pay off.
That astronomer's comment of "he's only an electrical engineer" proves everything. He wants to be in denial that an electrical engineer can reach the same level of knowledge as a PhD.

Dec. 20 2008 05:44 PM
mark Humbarger from grand rapids mi

It was a coworker who told me of this program and how
it was similar to what I have told him regarding my
history. I do not know how much they knew about ASD
in the sixties, I do know that the program I was in
regarded me as a slow child, the opposing opinion between different people was a source of confusion for me that created a vacuum that would be filled with more accurate information later in life, which by default is easier to work with vs the theories of the uninformed
in that day, and perhaps in this day at times as well.

Dec. 18 2008 04:48 PM
mark Humbarger from grand rapids mi

I saw a beautiful and brilliant child, and now I see an
autistic adult changing and reframing his perspectives
on the foolish and ignorant feelings sometimes projected
on him by those refusing dialog, but offering "answers".
I saw a beautiful and brilliant child, but I was wrong.
These are two different statements.

They see a lack of empathy. I see enharmonic contiguity.
These are different observations from different perspectives.
I say this as I stand in the face of current convention, yet some day I may hear it as if someone else was as brave to
stand against this grievous error.

Every moment, offers us the same opportunity to see what
has changed as well as what we might expect more clearly,if only we are willing, if not, as only as we are able.
Name: mark

My story is similar to the story heard on this program,
with a few differences.
I was placed in a program for the severely disabled "cerebral palsy, (autism(ME)),
downs syndrome" in my early school years,
but they tried to place this serious problem in a box reserved for social status,
"imagine that".

Dec. 18 2008 10:10 AM
Byron Frowner from Bronx N.Y.

I am Emanuel's father and I write to comment on my experience with Emanuel. The most courageous, loyal and nicest person I've known. He is consistent, hard-working and always plays by the rules. I knew it would be difficult finding suitable companions for him in the neighborhood we live and it hurt Emanuel and me deeply when we could not. His college experience was rewarding and yet traumatic for Emanuel but he will get through all challenges because he is a dedicated and wonderful person. He has helped me in many ways get through the challenges I have faced. We all benefit from the Emanuels of the world.

Dec. 15 2008 07:36 PM
Nancy Naylor from Dayton, OH

I just wanted to say "Thank you Emanuel!" for sharing your story. The more we share our stories the more we share our victories! I agree that a diagnosis can be a blessing. It helps everyone understand helps us find our place in the world. John Elder Robinson's book Look Me in the Eye is another great example of this. We wish you the best!

Dec. 15 2008 01:07 AM
Emanuel Frowner from Bronx N.Y.

I wanted to rewrite the comment that I wrote on Dec. 2 because it was not quite written the way that I wanted. I'm not at my sharpest right now because my grandmother passed away in May and it is still impacting me.

I wanted to respond to comment #3, which was written by my mom. One is how could you say that I'm not on the spectrum when many tests and interviews were done. It had been a blessing to me in so many ways. Also, I did not like that autistic spectrum was put in quotation marks making it seem like it was not real. Almost three years now, I have done a lot of reading about Asperger's Syndrome, which is high functioning autism. I have found that a lot of things that are related to Asperger's fit me. These types of comments (#3) do not help support people on the spectrum like myself. I strongly feel that you are on the autistic spectrum yourself. But you don't want to realize it because you think that the term means something negative when it really isn't. You have to look at the positive aspects of it. People, like myself, want to socialize, but they don't understand certain social and non verbal cues that would help them maintain friendships. This is because their brains are wired differently. But with practice, support from others, and patience, they can be successful in doing it.

Dec. 15 2008 12:17 AM
momatwork from New Jersey

I really enjoyed listening to this piece. I have taught classes for children with special needs for many years. I give Dad a lot of respect for doing what he felt was best for his son, and protecting him. I do think that Emanuel could have enjoyed a fuller social life had he been enrolled in a public school earlier, but I don't know if 10 years ago he would have had the opportunity to attend a college the way students with autism now might be provided. At the end of the day, the kids with parents who advocate for them are always at an advantage. Public school funds are limited and the old adage of the squeaky wheel gets the grease, usually applies. Good for you Emanuel and Dad too!

Dec. 12 2008 11:25 PM
Marianne from Albany, Oregon

When I turned on the radio and heard this tonight I heard almost my stepsons story. I have been to at least 4 evaluations and each time his mom lies about her sons abilities and milestones. He is thirteen and has had only a friend once in first grade and one last year who moved away. His mom says she does not want him labeled. There is tons more to this story but I am keeping this short. I believe you must get help early but I am glad to hear that there is still hope. Maybe he can get help after he turns 18. Thank you for putting this story out there for people like me to hear.

Dec. 11 2008 01:42 AM
Missy Jacobs from New Jersey

Dear Emanuel-
Congratualtions on this beautiful piece. I am so honored to have met you through Adaptations and I am very proud of the young man you have become. I wish you lots of success on all of your future endeavors. Good luck!
Missy

Dec. 07 2008 03:38 PM
Jason Ross from Rockland County, NY

Emanuel is my very good best friend. I am happy for him.

This year seems to be the beginning of telling stories of positive perspectives on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Emanuel's show is helping people understand the Autism Spectrum and is part of the process which will soon be second nature for every one in the world to be educated on this subject.

Congratulations my friend!

Jason

Dec. 05 2008 09:14 PM
Sarah from Astoria

Emanuel, you seem really brave. You are lucky to have a father who loves you so much. Thanks for sharing your story. Its important for Autism and Asperger's to be personalized and its easier for people to understand the condition if they can hear real stories like yours.

Dec. 05 2008 03:26 PM
Emanuel Frowner from Bronx N.Y.

I wanted to respond to the 3rd comment, which what my mom wrote in that, I did not get much sleep over it last night for many reasons. One was that how could you say that I'm not on the spectrum after many tests and interviews were done. It was a blessing to me in so many ways. Also, I did not like that "autistic spectrum" being put in quotation marks making it seem like it is not real. Almost three years now, I did a lot of reading about Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of autism and I have found that a lot of things (not absolutely everything) relates to many of the traits of Aspergers/Autism. These types of comments (the 3rd one) is the type of thing that does not help support people on the spectrum like myself. I strongly feel that you are on the autistic spectrum yourself, but you don't want to realize it because you think that it is something rather negative when it isn't. You have to look at the positive aspects of it. People, like myself, who have Asperger's, want to socialize, but they just don't really know how to maintain friendships, but with practice, some encouragement, and patience, they can do it.

Dec. 02 2008 08:32 AM
MARIAN FRYE from MANHATTAN

THE STORY ABOUT EMANUEL FROWNER WAS INTERESTING. I DOUBT THOUGH, THAT HE IS IN THE "AUTISTIC SPECTRUM", THOUGH HE HAS PROBABLY BEEN CONVINCED OTHERWISE.

I THINK HE MAY JUST BE A VERY SHY PERSON, HAVING INHERITED HIS SHYNESS PROBABLY FROM SHY PARENTS.

Dec. 01 2008 04:59 PM
Michael Albrecht from Cincinnati, Ohio

It should be noted that in many school districts, students identified with Autism, especially higher functioning forms such as Asperger's Syndrome, are not automatically pulled out of the general education classroom and placed in a "special ed." resource room. In many cases, the individual needs of the student are more likely to be the determining factors in such a decision. Many students with Autism are able to remain in the general education classroom with minor accommodations or supports to help build social skills in the school district where I work.

Overall, excellent work on this story! I am consistently enlightened and amazed by the quality of information and its presentation on this show. Thanks.

Nov. 30 2008 09:49 PM
jr from san luis obispo, ca

The show about Emanuel's high functioning autism was powerful and everyone was heroic (except the bullies).
However I wish Robert Krulwich knew more about autism so that he would be able to say that autistics DO want to socialize and have friends, they're just missing via chemistry or brain functioning, the abilities that most people have in reading the non-verbal cues and social signals that make social life possible. The same inabilities also affect their "theory of mind" which reduces their ability to have the empathy so necessary for successful socialization.
Furthermore Emanuel's dad made a choice that he should NOT have had to make. All the PEER-Reviewed research has confirmed that: 1. Early diagnosis and intensive (behavioral) intervention has the most positive outcomes and 2. "High functioning" autistics especially show positive outcomes when "mainstreamed" with peers in education. We need to evolve and recognize that autism challenges us ALL to craft a truly responsive and individual accepting education system. (In fact Federal law, IDEA 2004, mandates this "least restrictive" education and we ALL should see that the future Emanuels of the world get the therapies & education they need. There are Emanuels who don't have such supportive family. I wish these facts had been made known as part of the program. There is a lot of bad info out there now about autism (Jennie McCarthy etc.) and a science program should stress the science facts.

Nov. 29 2008 05:04 PM

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