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Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 04:35 PM

Ron, Owen and Cornelia Suskind (Photo Credit: Ron Suskind)

Ron and Cornelia Suskind had two healthy young sons, promising careers, and a brand new home when their youngest son Owen started to disappear. 

3 months later a specialist sat Ron and Cornelia down and said the word that changed everything for them: Autism. 

In this episode, the Suskind family finds an unlikely way to access their silent son's world. We set off to figure out what their story can tell us about Autism, a disorder with a wide spectrum of symptoms and severity. Along the way, we speak to specialists, therapists, and advocates including Simon Baron-Cohen, Barry and Raun Kaufmann, Dave Royko, Geraldine Dawson, Temple Grandin, and Gil Tippy.

Produced by Kelsey Padgett.

Produced by:

Kelsey Padgett


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Comments [93]

Sherrie Vavrichek from Silver Spring, MD

As a therapist who has worked with autistic individuals for more than two decades, I was deeply touched by this Radio Lab production's story of one family's creative path to connecting with their autistic son. I truly believe that the concept of "meeting individuals where they are at" can open many doors between people with autism and those who care for them, even though the approach--or combination of approaches--that works best may vary from person to person. As one wise 24 year old autistic client told me, "The best way for people to help individuals with autism is to begin with what the person's interests are," which is just what these parents did. Interestingly, this is a time of great diversity of opinion regarding the treatment implications of how much to think of autism as a t handicap to be treated, versus thinking that at least some of the differences are gifts to be tapped.

Readers might want to check out "Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity" (by Steve Siberman--acknowledged in the credits). This excellent book explores the history of our understanding and treatment of autism, with an emphasis on individuals who have made a difference in the field-- autistic people, family members, and professionals alike.

Thank you, RadioLab for your sensitive reporting on the controversies, challenges, and opportunities that autism presents.

Sherrie M. Vavrichek, LCSW-C
Clinical Social Worker

Jan. 22 2017 11:12 PM
A Quirky Kid

I was shown this podcast soon after I was diagnosed with high functioning autism. It was a real relief to know why my life had been like it had and why I was so different from everyone else. Now, I have learned to love it. I know being high functioning is a lot easier than being low functioning, but I'm higher now than when I was a child, and in a way it was a bit easier back then. Before I couldn't connect with anyone, I never had friends, was constantly lonely. I didn't really know what it was like to genuinely connect with someone. However, I couldn't see any social norms, skills, didn't have to worry about reading body language or if I'm going through the right steps to do the right thing socially. I didn't understand social boundaries existed enough to be confused about them. In fact, I apparently got bullied since I started school, but I remember very little of it because I just didn't understand what they were doing, and this saved me from a lot of pain and suffering, though I was still lonely. Now, I have a few very good, loyal friends who are very understanding and I value, I still get lonely but It's still nice to have them. Anyways, now, I have found appreciation for having autism. Quick sidenote, I'm no psychologist, but I've met a lot of people who are diagnosed with autism (high functioning) and the only symptom they have is lack of social skills, and to me that's just overdiagnosing. It means that I can stay in a bubble, with my computers, math, science, and physics, and doctor who and sit there happily, ignoring the rest of the world. I don't see social differences, so I don't treat people according to them. I'm loyal (to a fault). I also can figure out things and think of things that many other people can't. I've found a way to make many of the things that are part of me being on the spectrum to my advantage, and It's worked well. I still have difficulties, I can't sit in class long, and have to leave in the middle of the lesson, I have to wear a weighted vest and a hat and earplugs so I don't get sensory overloaded or have a meltdown, I have to constantly move and chew on stuff, my vision goes funny so I can't see properly 50% of the time (no, I don't need glasses), I can't focus properly on 99% of things, and there are many other hardships. I just don;t think it's fair to categorize autism (high or low functioning) as one thing, just good or bad. I think there's different aspects for different people, but seeing it as a terrible things all the time completely takes away from any gifts it brings. I know someone who has an incredibly smart son on the spectrum who is low functioning, and nonverbal. When parents give up hope they're telling their children to give up hope. "The difference between high-functioning autism and low functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low –functioning means your assets are ignored.(Laura Tisoncik)"
-A Quirky Kid

Aug. 23 2016 01:53 AM
Vanessa from Boston

I loved this podcast. It was mentioned in a Buzzfeed video about "What makes men cry" and how the last time he cried, it was listening to this story. Incredibly shared. Thanks!

Jul. 22 2016 01:46 AM
Jordan from Utah

This was an amazing episode. Thanks

Dec. 02 2015 04:14 PM
G from Wolf Springs, Alabama

Incredible show. So thankful I was driving and listening when this came on. Learned more about autism than I ever knew before. So much information, so compelling.

Nov. 19 2015 04:35 AM

Your story helps me understand my profoundly autistic brother who we lost in 2002. I was in the car listening to Owen's history and I was riveted. If I had not been on my way to work, I would have pulled over and listen to the end. I plan to listen to the podcast over and over. What you shared on Radiolab will help me and my family fill in some of the blanks about my younger brother, Danny.

Thank you so very much.

Nov. 15 2015 08:26 PM
Billy from Omaha

Love your program! This is my favorite. Listened to it a dozen times. I am familiar with the Autism Spectrum. The joy of hearing the father and son communication break through (Little Mermaid! Ursula!) made my day. I listen to it whenever I need a boost to my day. Thanks!

Aug. 23 2015 02:12 AM

As some one with brother diagnosed autisctic and myself attention deficit disorder this makes the integ
rating make a lot of sense, thank you radiolab for always making listinging an emotional and educating experience.

Jul. 09 2015 03:49 PM
shauna alterio from philadelphia, pa

just want to say THANK YOU! after hearing this show, my husband finally listened to me about my concerns for our two year old son. six months later, we have a diagnosis and are working with the most amazing therapists.

Jun. 11 2015 03:28 AM
Justin from Tulsa

Been a long time listener to the show, although I'm making up for six months of missed episodes so I just now heard this one. I have never commented on a show before. That is because this story moved me to tears, as a father of a son with a diagnoses on the spectrum I relate heavily to the content. I don't want to give anyone false hopes, but my son is doing almost everything they said he'd never be able to do, still struggles with some problem solving and processing tactile sensations. But I have to agree with what Raun Kaufman says, I'm blessed.

Jun. 08 2015 05:33 PM
Michelle from Indianapolis IN

I wonder if this child has Lyme disease? I was diagnosed with it last year after being told that I had arthritis for 2 years. It can mimic autism in small children and cause neurological as well as physical problems for children. I'd have my kid tested, just to be sure, if a doctor says autism. It is especially heart breaking that he was completely normal until he was three years old.

May. 31 2015 11:31 AM
Rudyard L. Kevoac from Florida

It's interesting that the progression of autism is expressed in detail. Most of the time, more focus is put on the end result rather than the progression of the disorder.

Apr. 13 2015 02:25 PM
Raffy from Sunny Aruba

This is such a great story. I saw the movie as well way back. I feel bad for the frustrated doctor who doesn't seem to realize his own expectations are condemning his son and other patients. He should listen to this podcast which I discovered thanks to you, Radiolab, the mother of all podcasts.

Apr. 04 2015 10:12 AM
Alice H. Nash

I thought this talk captured very well the different aspects of a child with autism. As a tutor for a young boy with Autism, it was really touching to hear this. It is so amazing the different aspects of people with Autism that make them special. What a great podcast.

Mar. 30 2015 08:50 PM

W.o.W. This was great and introduced me to Autism in a different way to i have been before - very intriguing.

Mar. 29 2015 07:11 PM

I'm not great at distinguishing voices, especially when I've only heard them introduced once. Could you please say who is speaking more often?

Feb. 19 2015 05:06 PM
Anna A. Dickinson from Oviedo, FL

Thank you for this podcast, Radiolab! It's so important for everyone to realize that autism does not determine intelligence. The world is seen differently for them, and they react how they can. Families with autistic children have to work extra hard to ensure their kids have a fulfilling life, and they definitely deserve recognition for this effort. In addition, I thought it was amazing how characters helped Owen communicate. No matter who you are, stories are monumentally significant.

Feb. 06 2015 08:00 PM
Katniss B. Sinclair from Oviedo, Fl

This podcast is so inspiring and I loved listening to it. It just solidifies the fact that you should never give up on someone just because an obstacle, however big or small, lays in the way. Autism has such a broad scope of intensity it is really quite interesting. It must feel horrible to think that your child is slipping away and you can't do anything to stop it. I give major props to the families that don't give up because in reality their child is still there.

Jan. 26 2015 10:24 PM
Walt C. Sinclair from Florida

I think that this podcast was amazing in terms of demystifying the normal prejudgments of autism that many of us thought were true. I also think that the story of Owen and how he came to communicate with his parents through the use of popular films and characters and the success that they had was absolutely fantastic. They also look at the other end of the spectrum and define autism as something that destroys people's lives and social abilities. The story of Ron's child and how they never gave up on him, despite spending countless hours trying to interact to achieve just 3 seconds of eye contact was very inspiring as well, showing that you should never give up on another human being just because of something that might have happened to them. This podcast also touched some of the harder parts on the subject of autism such as what will happen to their children when they are gone and if they will be able to function on their own. Overall, I think this was a outstanding podcast, keep up the great work, guys!

Jan. 26 2015 07:56 PM
Ayn A Tennyson from OVIEDO FL

This video was very intriguing because I love to be inspired by those who have it harder than most. Autism is a disorder that many people should be more appreciative of. That statement may sound more weird than it is intended to be. What I mean is that people with autism are 100x more smart and 100x more brilliant than the average Joe. They have great trials and tribulations but they learn to adapt and learn to live in a different way that most of us would have no clue how to survive. They teach and train themselves to certain routines and how to behave properly. Usually, we learn these basic things through our parents and family, but some people battling Autism don't get that privilege. We should appreciate others more and try to help out because it wont just make them stronger, but us too.

Jan. 26 2015 07:26 PM
Anna Morrison from Florida, USA

I found this podcast very interesting and touching. Autism has always intrigued me, since there are so many different cases on the spectrum, that almost no case is alike. Growing up, in my elementary school, there was a boy a year or two older than me who was severely autistic and my mother became friendly with his and found out that, similarly, he was not born that way, and at the age of about 3 or 4, began to slip into autistic tendencies. Although I find mental disorders very saddening generally, I think it is also very interesting how the brain works and how certain people lose cognitive function in certain areas.

Jan. 26 2015 06:54 PM
Ayn K Melville

"Started to disappear." This comment really shook me. Any type of mental handicap can make it seem like that person is slipping away. They stop communicating, stop reacting, and just seem blank. Physically they're there but it's like they just check out. The autism spectrum is very wide so it can be hard to identify it sometimes. Some kids can be violent or disobedient. Others become fixated with certain toys or objects and become anxious without it. I think it's really important to understand how kids find different outlets to communicate with us. If you can understand that then you can help them continue to learn and become functional adults.

Jan. 25 2015 11:35 PM
Sherlock D. Whiler from United States

Very touching podcast. I do, however, wonder what the definition of "autism" is. Observing some statistics, If you were born in the early 1990's, you have a 1 in 150 rate of autistic to "normal" children. If you were born in the early 2000's, you now have a 1 in 68 rate among these children. From a psychological standpoint, it poses a couple of questions: are we better at identifying this or are we just over diagnosing the less severe cases? Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything wrong with autism and, in fact, I even have a couple of friends who are autistic. Coming back to the podcast however, I believe that It was very well told and it had a very emotional story. In conclusion, I though that this was a very touching and well written podcast, but I also take different views on this topic.

Jan. 25 2015 08:46 PM
Elizabeth King

Honestly, this made me cry. One of the things I hate the most is crying, so that says something. Autism really hits home with me. One of my best friends in elementary school, named Alex, had a form of autism, which escapes my mind now, but this reminded me of her. The Disney movies part reminded me, actually, of how much she did. During PJ day at school her and I would bring in all of our Disney movies to watch in class, and her favorite was Spirit. Alex loved horses, as did I, so instead of doing our work sometimes we would write notes with horses all over them. Soon after we went to Middle School she had to be hospitalized for a disease in her brain that sent signals to her legs to stop functioning. She had to go to a hospital in Ohio I think. Since I couldn't see her, I sent her as many horse drawings as I could. I still haven't seen Alex since then, but I heard she still loves horses, and is recovering well. This video made me think about how great people with Autism are. They are exactly like us, and many have kinder souls than us.

Jan. 19 2015 10:43 PM
Lyra K. Christie

This podcast shocked me. I clicked on it because I have a strong personal connection with autism. In second grade, I met a girl who I knew was kind of different than the other kids in my class. I started to talk to her and we have been friends ever since. Later on I realized that she has autism. When this podcast said that Owen was able to communicate better through Disney movies, something hit me. My friend is obsessed with Disney movies just like Owen was. She loves Pixar in particular and will sit in bed and watch the movie Bolt for hours. She will repeat lines and over and over, and expect me to say the following line back to her. We always carry out a conversation this way, and it stunned me to know that someone else had the same experience as me. I relate so much to this family that shared their story in this podcast, and just like them I have always known that there is something else going on in my friend's mind. She should not be treated differently just because of her physical deficiencies. I believe that autism should be explored more thoroughly and that there should be better, alternative ways to communicate because a person with autism is obviously capable of so much more than the world thinks they are.

Jan. 12 2015 09:50 PM
charles from Toronto, Canada

Loved this. Touching and tear jerking. Thank you Radiolab!

Jan. 05 2015 12:38 PM
Pete from Round Rock, TX

This was a hard episode to listen to because of all of the emotions. I have two children with Autism. My daughter, the youngest is high functioning. If you did not know she had Autism she comes off just a little shy, and maybe a bit odd, not a bad thing.

My son the oldest has severe Autism. He will always be day to day part of our life. He will not be able to live on his own. Now it is not all bad, he loves hugs, he is loving, he does not have issue with eye contact. Developmental most things he is on a preschool to kindergarten level. He has a very limited vocabulary. So my two kids are roughly on opposite ends of the spectrum. They both received similar treatments and help in their earlier years. They both have ended up in different places.

I have read and heard a lot of these success stories of triumphs over Autism. When you are parent with a child with Autism and you have not had these successes it is hard to not ask yourself "How can I do more? Could I have done more?". So you look around at other families you know in the Autism community and realize that these wonderful success stories are not the norm. So if you happen to share one of those stories with someone with a family member who has Autism and they are less than enthused, this is why.

I love both my children with all my heart. I have no illusions about my son's life and at times I am saddened by his prospects. The majority of things adults do he will never do like, fall in love with someone, have a job, or start a family on his own. At Forty years old I expect him to still want to listen to Christmas carols in July and sleep with his fire truck curled up in his arms. I am not super optimistic person. I have stopped holding out hoping for some miracle turn around for my son. I have made peace with it and try to get what positive happy moments I can from it.

Dec. 14 2014 11:05 PM
Kimberly from Connecticut

While I enjoyed listening to this episode, I was also disappointed in the depth and breadth of the information presented. I am a behavior analyst working with children with ASD and as one poster already mentioned Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence-based practice for intervention for people with Autism. There is a project at the National Autism Center that categorizes interventions according to their effectiveness in the research that may be helpful for those wanting to learn more about evidence-based practices. I know personal stories bring a way for people to relate but in addition, adding in the research behind these stories and presenting individual stories tied to those practices that have strong evidence would be a valuable way to expand on this work.

Nov. 23 2014 07:29 AM
Nona Calingasan from Philippines

This episode brought me to tears. My niece has autism and I've always thought of her as not always being there. Most of my memorable interactions with her is re-enacting scenes from her favorite movie. Whenever she says a line from a movie and I say another line back, she looks at me with her wide eyes and says another as if she's egging me on. I'm not sure if it's her way of connecting or trying to understand me but this podcast helped me understand her more. I think this podcast helped me finally get her.

Nov. 17 2014 03:37 AM
Agatha Y. Colerige

This was a fascinating podcast, and I'm truly happy for the family and how Owen can fully function on his own now. It amazed me how he found a way to communicate with his family through the Disney movies and that it was his way of escaping the frantic outside world and go to his own comforting one. Although it was depressing that he felt like he didn't belong, I'm glad that his parents and brother always pushed on to help him get better. Also, the empathy that he developed was touching, in particular when his classmates tormented and threatened him, and he didn't want to tell his brother, in fear that he may hurt them. Although I cannot relate to this podcast through personal experience, the story has deeply touched me.

Nov. 10 2014 08:57 PM
Frank Strobl

I was surprised at how people were talking to and treating some people with Autism. The way that some of the people spoke dehumanized people with the disease. It made them sound like they weren't even people, while in reality they are people just like you and me that have a disease that is making life more difficult for them. I also think that the parents could have done more to help the kids. I was also amazed to know that people can develop autism even if they aren't born with it.

Nov. 10 2014 08:25 PM
Tex from Texas

The story of the bullies is my worst fear for my son..great show, had to fight back tears here at work. thanks

Nov. 10 2014 04:42 PM
Harriet J. Emerson from United States

I find it amazing how a simply things can connect and then suddenly come back from utter silence. When a child goes down hill that quickly there is so many questions. Autism takes many forms and can find breakthroughs in many ways but parents must make an effort to help the child. The voice recording of the kid with the apple shows the real struggle of kids with autism and how confusing the world can be and how the world can be. The many view points from parents with kids with autism and how the felt really made me understand how hard it is to take care of their kid. Especially the kids who are really hard to connect with and still have the mentality of a young toddler. Full recovery is amazing and I feel can sadly only happen to a few.

Nov. 10 2014 03:34 PM
Tracey from Long Beach Ca

to the person who said the way people are talking about Autistic people makes them mad, and in particular the parents way of saying their son began to disappear, was upsetting... I don't know if the poster has an autistic child or not but I think their feelings of anger which I know comes from loyalty, love and good heartfelt reasonings. I think they are assuming it is a negative comment about the son, but it must be remembered that they love their son deeply but they are human and have their own hurt ; this is just how they attempt to describe how hard Autism hits THEM. I wish I could articulate it better. For example my husband recently passed away with Alzheimers' and I never stopped loving him even though I watched him disappear , over & over again. It is truly heart wrenching to love someone who loses their ability to connect with you , normally. The heartbreak and our effort to describe it, does not at all mean any disrespect to the person who actually has the disease. I wish you peace and understanding , and bless you for being a great friend. It is only human to feel how you are feeling. Protective and defensive, but it's from your heart, I know this.

Nov. 04 2014 01:59 PM
Pam from Monroe, WA

I remember when my son was a baby and the first signs of communicating when I would stick out my tongue and he would reciprocate. To me, this is a teeny portion of what Owen's parents and brother must have felt when they figured out where and why he kept saying 'Juicervose' and subsequent puppeteering. I cried tears of joy for them.

Nov. 03 2014 07:25 PM
Toni J Wilde from Oviedo, Florida

"Started to Disappear", that quote that his parents used really hit me hard. How could you ever say that your child disappeared, they're also there. Maybe they won't act like the same person, but they're still your child and they're still "there". Not every child who has Autism is the same. Each person has their own challenges and strong sides to them. The way that the people are talking about the kids with Autism really makes me mad. They're acting as if they aren't even people, that they're not human, just like they are some kind of animals. Even though their kid had difficulties, the parents could have done more things to help them. My best friend has Autism and her parents have done a tremendous amount of work with her and she is doing amazing. Nothing like the parents are describing how they're helping their child. Nothing is going to happen if they just sit there.

Nov. 02 2014 06:52 PM
Lujac Desautel from San Francisco

I grew up with a autistic brother who was 2 years older than me. He died three years ago when I was 20 and he was 22. This story really touched my heart. I connected with it on every way because I know what it is like to grow up with a brother who has Autism. Thank you Radio Lab

Nov. 01 2014 09:39 PM
Anna Silverstein

This podcast was very touching. I'm glad to here Owen's condition improved. It's interesting to me how much Disney movies helped him

Oct. 31 2014 04:27 PM

New scientific study (great method many here should look into it ;) shows autism spectrum disorder is linked to 60 human genes, SIXTY GENES! That's INCREDIBLE complexity and diversity. Given 60 involved loci you should expect very very little chance for common treatments, let alone cures. Its more like cancer than sickle cell anemia, sadly, so a cure will be exceedingly difficult. Not that we've cured sickle cell but its infinitely more tractable.

Oct. 31 2014 10:14 AM
david from Texas

if he only relates to cartoons, in the age of computers, why don't the parents make their own cartons relevant to their child and their lives. just a thought. hope it helps

Oct. 24 2014 02:41 PM

Great episode, very touching and enlightening.
On a side note, does anybody know the title of the song played at the end of this episode? It's so beautiful and soothing...

Oct. 22 2014 12:14 PM
Michelle from United States

Please, wake up and smell the vaccinations. It's alway been obvious to thinkers; for the followers, the head of the CDC finally admitted the connection.

Oct. 21 2014 12:36 PM
Toni L. Gatsby from Long Island

This episode helped me understand a complete other side of autism than what I had already known. I was not aware of how a person diagnosed with autism felt, and how they comprehend situations. I also had not heard of any "success" stories, opening a new view of what parents, siblings, and the actual patient go through. This story was very emotional, not only because of Owens condition, but how Disney movies were able to help him sort out incoming thoughts and information from daily life. It amazes me how Owen was once completely oblivious to the world, but can now tell about his thoughts and how he felt when he was this way. It also inspires me to know how his brother considers himself to be Owens protector, and Owen his.

Oct. 19 2014 07:59 PM
Toni R Sinclair from FL

This episode was extremely eye opening, and I am amazed. The concept of echolalia is mind-blowing to me. The brain is truly fascinating. I was not aware that a person could develop Autism and not be born with it. It's almost frightening that a child could be healthy for 3 years of their life and suddenly have to Autism. It also got emotional when I learned that Owen was bullied, and how he found a loop hole in the kids' threat to burn his house if he told his parents that they were tormenting Owen. The title of this episode is very fitting, and I got goosebumps when I realized that "juicervose" was Owen saying "just your voice." I enjoyed Owen's story, and it has changed my outlook on this disorder.

Oct. 19 2014 03:54 PM
Anna Chaucer

I really enjoyed this story, it gave interesting insight into what actually goes on in the mind of someone with autism. I liked the "falling from a plane" analogy, it helped me understand the sensory overload that people with autism experience. I wish the science behind it was discussed in more detail,however.I was glad that the fact that the information in the story is mostly ancedotal was clarified because, as discussed in the episode, families can sometimes be harmed when something that worked for one child doesn't have the same effect for theirs.Overall, I found this episode gripping and heartwarming.

Oct. 19 2014 01:55 PM
Daniel from Chicago

wow what a great episode. I'm actually an autism researcher, so it was really interesting to see an episode on my field. This was a really touching episode, and reminded me why I do it.

Oct. 15 2014 12:57 PM
Marty Albi from Western australia

While it is a touching story, there were huge holes left out untouched.
If one is born with autism, how come Owen clearly did not have it for the first 2.5 years? There are thousands of kids that "develop" autism, (or the asd symptoms) after 18-48 months of being completely symptom free. Why isnt anyone studying this? Why arent the questions being asked?

Oct. 14 2014 07:16 PM
Cat from New york

This brought tears to my eyes! I have had the opportunity to work with children with autism and I have loved every minute of it. They are all so unique and all respond differently. Thank you so much for sharing your story with those of us who try so hard to make a difference with these children because we see something in them that others don't.

Oct. 13 2014 12:44 PM
Frank G from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

As an animation teacher (in a community college style school) I see more students with spectrum disorder entering the teaching program each year. They are all individual stories but one thing in common, as you can imagine, we have the tribal bond of animation. Animation is a craft, an entertainment and a way to communicate. Fantastic pod cast. I've listened to them all.

Oct. 12 2014 03:14 AM

Terrific episode. Very touching for me personally, as I have a younger brother with Aspergers. I really empathized with Walt, especially his reaction to Owen being bullied in school - so heartbreaking. I'm glad things have mostly worked out well for this family and wish them and Owen all the best.

Oct. 11 2014 09:26 PM
Lindsey from Washington, DC

Thanks for the tears, RadioLab. This episode brought back a lot of memories for me. My younger brother was also diagnosed around 1993-94, exhibited many of the same characteristics, and at some point also started watching the Disney movies in the same way as Owen. My brother never developed language before his diagnosis, and didn't speak until he was about seven - while putting together a puzzle of a Disney character. At 23, he still rarely speaks full sentences. There was no "ah-ha" moment for us. We're not holding out for any kind of "recovery," but rather these little moments when we get a glimpse of his real character.

It's a touching story, and I think our understanding would benefit from hearing the voices of people on the Autism spectrum more often. But these stories, including my own family's, are all anecdotal. And when we hear one, it's as if they all get equal weight. To this day I watch my mom spend time, energy, and money on "treatments" (fads) that might have worked for one person, and might offer my mom a little hope of improving some aspect of my brother's life, but ultimately change little. My brother's symptoms were in many ways identical to Ron's son, not to mention many other children when they are diagnosed, yet they ended up with vastly different outcomes. Was there something we could have done differently? We don't know. There just isn't an answer right now.

Anyway, I enjoyed hearing their stories in the episode, and I'm looking forward to reading Ron Suskind's book, too.

Oct. 11 2014 12:17 PM
Diane from Oregon

I am a mother of a child with Asperger's Syndrome whose story is similar to Temple Grandin's. We knew something was wrong from the beginning, but it worsened after age 1. He began to speak at about 4, learned to read by 3rd grade, and functions at a higher level than those with severe autism, though still has many issues.
The interesting thing is that I also have a son with Down's Syndrome. He came out of his shell and began to talk around age 7 and we attribute this to Disney movies as well. At age 15 he still watches them excessively, sings the songs, repeats lines, associates with characters, and has learned to communicate so much more due to them. I appreciate the information in this podcast.

Oct. 10 2014 06:38 PM
Ana from Sheffield, England

Pretty much every single time, Radiolab makes me cry. I love the way the team is able to convey emotions. Excellent editing, great stories. I shuddered when I heard Owen speak for the first time. :)

Oct. 09 2014 01:18 PM
Donna from Sherwood Park

I consider myself one of the luckiest people. I know. I have the opportunity to do respite with an amazing young man with Autism. He has taught me so much and keeps me laughing. He came into my life through another job and I am thankful for that. He has taught me patients, understanding and love. I cant wait to watch this 16 year old grow into the great man I know he will. I thank you and your mom for allowing me to be in your life. Autism doesn't stop the person from living a productive and meaningful life. They just might have to get there in a different way that you or I would.

Oct. 06 2014 07:15 PM
jing feng from shanghai, china

I heard this story on my way back from the Budda mountain. Although I don't know anyone suffered from autism. But I decided to share this story with more autism family in China by translating this story. I will find some public platform/website to share this story, not sure where yet, I will send you a link later. If my translation will affect any copyright issue, please let me know.
As a big fan of Radiolab, thanks for your great work !

Oct. 06 2014 09:08 AM
Mert Iseri from New York

How is this story not a Disney movie already?

Oct. 03 2014 06:21 PM

I agree that it was a touching episode. If this was This American Life, I would have enjoyed the story for what it was and left it at that. But Radiolab is about science, or so I thought. There was no science in this episode. I'd really like to hear more about what science says about autism and different treatments in addition to stories such as this. I miss the science :(

Oct. 02 2014 05:35 PM

Had to post on this, this episode totally made me cry. It's amazing how those unbelievably difficult challenges in life can bring out the best in people and humanity. Great reminder, I always want to be like Walt and never leave someone on the path, even if there's a chance they may never make it.

Oct. 02 2014 02:24 PM
Luc from New Zealand

This was a typically fantastic Radiolab episode. I felt an additional wave of emotion when the bullying BD (behaviorally disordered) students were mentioned. I taught in BD programs and had many BD students. While this was certainly not the focus of the episode and the students in question were not the victims, it is still important to recognize that BD is a disorder in many of the same ways that autism is. The difficulty for many of us is that BD kids are a lot more difficult to like at times. While some of the people with autism profiled in the story are very sweet or sympathetic, many people with BD might come across quite differently. And that is what is most heart-breaking. I have known a number of very strong, smart, and loving people with behavioral difficulties. And this is a much less discussed problem that (and I'm just guessing) has a higher incidence than severe autism. Possibly worth discussing or investigating?

Thank you

Oct. 01 2014 08:33 PM
James from Memphis, TN

Although this story was compelling, I can't help but be a bit upset that there was no mention of any evidence-based practices in autism treatment. No, personal stories are not evidence. There are intervention practices available (applied behavior analysis, for example), with ample supporting scientific research, that help children with autism every day. A single case story - compelling though it may be - does a great disservice to parents seeking intervention strategies. The reason we rely on evidence rather than anecdote (the only thing presented in this story) is because anecdote is so often wrong. There are people who testify that bleach enemas can treat autism (Google it if you don't believe me) - but saying it doesn't make it so. Autism has enough fads floating about - I wish Radiolab presented a bit more evidence.

Oct. 01 2014 02:25 PM
AG from Brooklyn, NY

I just read the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and am interested in how successful the protocol is for helping/healing autism.

Sep. 30 2014 04:26 PM
eva from maui

Everyone should know about Carly Fleishmann - she is an autistic teen who figured out by accident that she could communicate by typing out on a laptop. She is super inspiring if you're dealing with an autistic child of any age. The 20/20 profile is a must see.

Sep. 29 2014 07:53 PM

Families with autism need to contact Brain Balance. We can help!

Sep. 29 2014 01:17 PM
tedmich from PDX

While it was quite touching to hear of an (extremely rare) remission from autism, it is very important to realize that the condition is extremely complex and that there is little or no common features that can be gleaned from these rare events. A real danger, in my mind, is the failure felt by parents with a vastly more common therapeutic arc, or the tacit implication that they lacked the the work ethic or conviction of the randomly successful parents. Should every parent of a child with autism skip work to spend 900 hours rocking with them in the bathroom? Should they all send their children to incredibly expensive schools in perpetuity? Perhaps in a perfect world everyone would have these options, but uncontrolled studies are often worth than worthless, for the guilt and false hope they engender. Anyone want to document/reproduce how Jenny Mccarthy "cured" her son of autism?

Sep. 28 2014 12:12 PM

Great episode! I'm new to Radiolab however this topic hits home being an uncle of an autistic nephew. I can relate with so many topics and actions by the kids, including the music and Disney movies. Like rewinding to a specific spot or moment. The moment where Owen had a breakthrough with the movie Aladdin blew my mind. Our nephew also likes us to talk to him in several cartoon characters. Makes our family very hopeful for our special guy. Would definitely like to hear more of this material. You guys are awesome, thank you!!

Sep. 27 2014 04:41 PM
Beth Levy from Israel

When I heard Owen speak, my heart expanded.

Sep. 27 2014 04:34 PM
KJ from Seattle

3 quick comments...
First, this was a beautiful story about the Suskind family and their struggles and triumphs. It was inspiring.
Second, the negative comments regarding autism as destroying lives and avoiding false hope are unnecessary and harmful. Pretty sure we wouldn't say that about a person with mental retardation, Down syndrome, etc.
Third, although I'm sure the program does wonderful things for some people with Autism, the Sonrise program and it's philosophy are not backed by any thorough scientific research.

Sep. 25 2014 02:54 AM
Emily from NYC

This is a beautiful episode. My favorite thing Radiolab has done. As someone who grew up on Disney movies, this really hit me.

Sep. 24 2014 03:16 PM
Steve from Saint Paul, MN

I wanted others to know I had a very similar experience with my son when he was very young. He was diagnosed with autism at age 3 (he's 18 now) and used to re-watch Disney movies often. He once repeated "I am not a prize to be won!" at me in a moment of anger, and I had no idea where that came from. I knew about the echolalia at that point, but had no frame of reference.

Until we later re-watched Aladdin together.

Princess Jasmine uses that line to show her frustration at other people trying to control her destiny, and that was very much the feeling my son was trying to get across at a young age (maybe 4 or 5?). I had the "light bulb" moment when I heard the Disney dialogue in context, and was able to place what my son wanted to say.

He's a an amazing man, going to college and dealing with us frustrating neurotypicals in the best ways, most of the time. :)

Sep. 24 2014 10:42 AM
Ron O. from Boise, ID

As a parent of a 21-year old nonverbal son with autism, this program was done SO WELL. Thank you to these experts, Owen, Raun, and phenomenal other family members - and to RadioLab's expertise in sharing many people's experiences with autism.

Another book that helped us in Robby's Teenage years... 'The Reason I Jump.'

Sep. 24 2014 08:46 AM
Gu Yang from China

Thank you, Radiolab. I am eager to share with my family what I learned from this episode because my 8-year-old nephew has autism and it is good to know that we are not alone in trying to make sense of the condition.

Yet in terms of production, I'm not sure I would use the same recording of Ron and Owen's conversation in 41m10s when, as I hear it, Ron almost "feeds" to Owen the idea of reciprocity. Also, I feel quite uncomfortable when, in 38m58s, Owen is asked on recording to recall the words of bullies whereas this part can be told by the interviewer or hosts just as alright.

True. Live recording, dramatic opening, etc. --they may be intergal to Radiolab's way of story-telling. And how I love the smart and light touch as I listened to all your past episodes on topics like DNA, laughter, and dolphins. Just when the content borders on more humane areas, I believe a slightly more sensitive approach to production won't hurt.


Sep. 24 2014 05:01 AM
Alison Ricker from Oberlin, Ohio

Fascinating. The depths of the working of the human brain never cease to amaze.

Sep. 23 2014 11:03 PM

You are very upset about people "speaking for autistic people." I'm not sure who you are referring to. I don't believe that any family member, interviewee, or host ever claimed to speak "for autistic people." Everyone shared THEIR view based on THEIR experience. The story was told from the parents' perspective- not the child's. No one on the show pretends otherwise. I would love to hear a Radiolab episode that features more interviews with autistic children and focuses exclusively on their perspective. This wasn't that episode though. I enjoyed it anyway.

Sep. 23 2014 08:09 PM
ken howard from new york city

Quite an interesting show. I suggest a book about this subject from a parent's very compelling point of view - Autism-A Dad's Journey by a man named Luis Bayardo. I never had any knowledge of autism until this show and this book. Pretty eye-opening and important thing to know about.

Sep. 23 2014 05:54 PM
Bill Butler from Brantford Ontario

I have an autism friend. She is a young teenager. We have raised her glutathione levels and what a huge difference we have seen in her. Her seizures have gone from 3 to 4 a week to 2 in one year. She is now more alert, making eye contact with people and excatly having better conversations!!

Sep. 23 2014 07:55 AM
Robert Delisle from Los Angeles

Hello, I generally love RadioLab and I really enjoyed hearing from Owen and Mr. Suskind. I initially ignored Mr. Royko's portions of the show until I read Shannon Des Roches Rosa's response which captured the error made in the show much better than I can.

I have worked with the community for some time. I disagree with their desire to bring "balance" to the piece by allowing someone very bitter to spew what amounts to hate speech on air. Yes, everyone has a right to their experience, but I thought that considering the person actually experiencing the non-verbal autism with no assisted communication can't respond and advocate for himself, there was no way that perspective was or could be balanced.

The most clear example is when Royko says, "Autism destroys lives" which essentially dehumanizes a very large neurodiverse community.

The only valuable thing Mr. Royko discussed is that parents should only expect their child to be their child, like any other parent, because whoever they turn into is a valuable wonderful human being. Any parent should be given the advice that all they can do love and support their child, and as long as they are doing that they should never be ashamed.

Sep. 23 2014 01:42 AM
Tara from Georgia

Dear Radiolab,
My hubby came home from work today and said "babe, you gotta listen to this, it sounds like Sydney." Our daughter, Sydney is 9 and has Down Syndrome and Autistic Tendencies (don't have the official ASD diagnosis yet). I have been telling my hubby for the last year and a half that she has autism, but every time I try to discuss it with him, I hear that I am not a doctor and that she does not have autism. This episode somehow opened his eyes that in fact she does have autistic tendencies. Thank you for sharing this topic, and opening his eyes. Maybe now I won't feel so like I am carrying the burden all alone, although I am nervous that he will start trying to fix her, but I guess I can't have it both ways. Again, just a thank you from someone who doesn't usually listen, but am reaping the benefits of your program.

Sep. 22 2014 10:01 PM
Meghan from Victoria, BC

Lynn-- Don't assume that the families of autistic people are always on the "inside" of criticism. The only person truly always on the inside is the autistic person. Would Owen describe himself as "a shell of his former self," do you think? Many families of autistic people are supportive, and I am sure Owen's is one, but not nearly all. Assuming that the families of autistic people have the same right to speak for an autistic person is dangerous, because it can result in the family's word being taken over the autistic person's-- and autistic people are vulnerable to abuse by their caretakers. Owen's brother is not here for me to criticize, so I won't, but the brothers of neurotypical children are not given license to speak for their siblings and neither should the brothers of autistic/ID/neurodivergent children. They can get it wrong. They can be hurtful and spread hurtful ideas.

And Nick-- on the contrary, we get the point, and we're not sure it was pointed in the right direction.

I also have my reservations about this episode and would love to see RadioLab do an episode that includes the voices and perspectives of autistic and neurodivergent people. Many do speak and others can communicate through audible AAC. Just a thought.

Sep. 22 2014 07:34 PM
Lynn from Portland, OR

I hope to see the day when individuals with disabilities, and their parents and advocates, can use their words of choice to describe their experiences without so much outside criticism based in political correctness. By "outside," I don't mean outside the field of work or thought, but outside of the person and their family. Others often seek to be offended, it seems. If Owen's brother chooses to say "He was a shell of himself," - then let him say it! This was his experience.

Sep. 22 2014 05:21 PM
Nick from Brooklyn

I think Bev and some of the other commenters are missing the point of the episode. I didn't get the idea that Radiolab was "spreading hate" about autism. They chose two cases that were on opposite ends of the spectrum (no pun intended) in order to showcase the unique and difficult crossroads the parents of autistic children find themselves at: how hopeful should they be? What, if any, expectations should they realistically have? It's not easy.

Sep. 22 2014 02:58 PM
Shelly L. from Orlando, FL

Thank you for this podcast. I work for a non-profit organization in Central Florida called OCA. We are a special place for special needs and provide affordable programs & services for individuals with Autism and other disabilities. In 1995 the odds of having an child with Autism was 1 in 10,000. Today, in 2014, it is 1 in 68. We appreciate programs such as yours that bring awareness of Autism because with ratios increasing at this incredible rate, we need to be prepared and to have developed programs for these individuals so they can have a place to grow, play, learn, work, and live. Your podcast episode helps plant the seed for people who do not deal with Autism on a daily basis to begin learning about it. For more information on OCA, visit: Thank you RadioLab for always keeping your programming relevant and current!!!

Sep. 22 2014 02:53 PM

Autism destroys lives? He started to disappear? "Just a shell of himself?" These are some very harmful ideas you are spreading. The lives of autistic people are further endangered by this story's endorsement of outdated stereotypes. The attempted murder of Issy Stapleton is once again used to garner sympathy for parents who kill. How can anyone not see how wrong this is? With good editing, this could have been a somewhat useful story about communication across different neurotypes. Instead, we get more hatred toward autism and autistic people. More of the same.

Sep. 22 2014 09:08 AM
Ken from Toronto, Canada

This episode was extremely touching and eye opening. Thank you for doing the research regarding autism and putting together such an engaging episode.

Sep. 22 2014 08:04 AM
IanKeller from London

Thank you for this show. As someone who falls into three dysfunctional spectrum (bipolar, dyslexia, and autism), I believe labeling these conditions can be harmful due the way humans stereotype and attempt to develop one size fits all treatment. I still struggle with bipolar and autism, but I have been able to build a family and remain employed for over 30 years. I can see how moving into the autistic person's world can be very helpful.

Sep. 22 2014 05:11 AM

I've heard about the story only recently before, I believe on studio360, am grateful for this treatment here. Paige from Southern CA, with appreciation of your concerns, but there will always be something missing when talking about autism, this is but one story, and for that it was very complex already. As it is when there's something *wrong or different*, it also tells a lot about what Mind is in general, the means it grasps to work out the world, to survive. The role the Disney characters take on for Owen, their purpose and the family's use of them to connect with him and improve his life, you could fill a couple hours with this alone. As for Dave Royko's reaction - I haven't yet read the book, so I mean his reaction as heard on this pod - I understand his view, and I'm as disgusted as he is by the 'autism is awesome'-movement, yet his own take of 'don't awake false hopes' is a generalization in itself: you have to begin first, and you'll most probably have to keep at it for a long time, before you can talk about an ending. It might be due to editing that his views came across as this limited, but resigning to 'autism destroys lives' won't be of help to anyone, as understandable the position is. It does - so what to do?
Finally, one of the most rewarding aspects of this pod, the not often heard fact that autism has many faces.
One of your best pods.

Sep. 22 2014 05:07 AM
Andrea from Wichita,KS

As a single mom of a child with moderate autism, nearly every aspect of this episode resonated with me. You beautifully captured some of the sorrows, triumphs, worry and wonderment involved in raising a child with autism. Thank you for this and all that you do.

Sep. 22 2014 02:33 AM
Dirk Petersen from Washington, DC

This episode opened a deeper interest and understanding into autism for me. Upon further reading about it, I was surprised, though that the story left out the idea of the intense world theory that seems to hold out hope for ways to treat/manage/support autistic children. Why did you not include information on it, or interview Henry Markram who also has a son with autism and who is a leading neuro scientist to boot? (found the information in the newspaper, Die Zeit:

Sep. 22 2014 12:37 AM
Gabriella from Portland, OR

I enjoy every episode of Radiolab but this one held me in a way that made me greatly appreciate the skilled craftsmanship and creativeness that it takes to create a podcast like this. The best Radiolab I've heard by far.

Sep. 20 2014 06:50 PM
Paige from Southern CA

I was largely disappointed in this episode as it ignored the very vibrant community of Autistic adults and the thoughts of Actually Autistic people. As an Autistic adult, I sometimes need help, less than some, more than others, but I am not a tragedy. Too many people spread fear and false information, and expect Autistic people to behave in neurotypical ways for their own comfort, rather than the actual good of the Autistic people involved. Attitudes like Dave Ryoko's endanger Autistic lives, by making excuses for parents and others who abuse and murder Autistic people.

A few sound bytes from Temple Grandin and a passing reference to the neurodiversity movement does not excuse the overall condescending tone of this episode.

Sep. 20 2014 04:35 PM
Debbie from Kansas

As a mom with a child who is flourishing in his Son-rise program (that the Kaufmans spoke about), I don't recall that the story mentioned that son-rise is all about following a child's interests/motivations as a pathway to social development. My husband and I listened to this with both tears in our eyes (been there) but with a profound sense of gratitude for our journey and where our son is today. Thank you so much for doing a topic on autism!

Sep. 20 2014 10:22 AM
Jessica from Dallas, Texas

I've been a RadioLab listener for years, and have enjoyed to every single episode that you've produced. With that being said, I connected with this episode more than any other, by far. As a mother of a child with Autism, I can relate so much with what these parents faced, and gained much insight throughout the entire episode. Thank you so much for another brilliant podcast! #mynewfavorite

Sep. 20 2014 12:25 AM
Stacey from Los Angeles, CA

immensely beautiful story. felt them all. lots of love.

Sep. 19 2014 11:41 PM
Melissa from Brooklyn, NY

I am a big fan of RadioLab (I was at your BAM RadioLoveFest performance!) - and I can't tell you how thrilled I am that you are finally doing a show about #autism. Thanks for highlighting Ron's book - it's one of my favorites.

Sep. 19 2014 09:19 PM

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