Here is the transcript for our interview with Emanuel Frowner.
Doug Blecher: Emanuel, thanks so much for joining us today. I want to start off by learning. Where does your story in the autism community begin?
Emanuel Frowner: when I found out from the doctors in Mount Sinai center I was on the Autism spectrum. I was a little surprised at first but it was a blessing in disguise. I started reading some books and articles about it. Another doctor recommended that I join Adaptations and I joined in the fall of 2006.
Doug : Your part Caucasian, but also part African-American and Native American. And I know you’ve been looking for a support group for autistic people who are also minorities. How do you think a group like this would be helpful to you?
Emanuel: Finding a group for minorities who are autistic would definitely help me because they would understand what I have been through of knowing what it is like to be treated unfairly and vice versa. They would likely empathize in terms what I have been through in terms of being stigmatized by others like strangers, relatives, so called friends or even close family. They would likely be supportive of me if I put a lot of thought into going after my dreams.
Doug: What has been the process so far in looking for such a group?
Emanuel:It has been hard because there are autistic groups that I have been in, have mostly Caucasian men. I don’t see many men or women or other ethnic backgrounds or even see as many Caucasian women for that matter. I have heard of Felicity House, which is for autistic women only and no men are allowed. I don’t want to get too involved so I will say that I get that autistic women need a space to themselves to support one another because they have been told to mask and not be their true selves. In August of 2018 and 2019, I went to an autism conference called AUTSPACE in Michigan, which is of, for and by autistics. I saw a few women and men of ethnic backgrounds and I was happy to see that. I had a good time there and if felt like I was on vacation. I applied to fountain house last year, in part because an Asian lady who is a member there, encouraged me to. It turned out that I was not eligible because I did not have a dual diagnosis, even though I had experienced some depression. I also applied for YAI, but when I mailed out my application to a lady, but she never got back to me. I also would like to begin dating again and I would like to preferably date women who are autistic and who are of different ethnic backgrounds. A lady who is also a member of a Hiki app (a dating app for autistics) just like I am, encouraged me to join the Autistic NJ Neurotribe group. They have virtual events and so far it has been promising.
Doug:Beyond a group like this that I think would be very valuable, how do you think the Autism community could do a better job of supporting minorities?
Emanuel: I think that it depends on who you talk to within the autistic community. People like myself, who are self-advocates know first-hand what it is like the struggles that minorities who are autistic go through. This ranges from others judging us harshly in heat-of-the-moment situations, being discriminated being pigeonholed, others treating us unfairly, criticizing us for just being different, undermining us when we try hard, mistaking our behaviors for something more than what it should be and not being allowed to do some things which seem completely normal. Also, some parents (NTs) of autistic children/adults have made me feel funny when they tell me how they have advocated for their children so that they have early intervention and finding fault with how I have dealt with certain situations. I would tell them and others who have similar mind sets to not be so judgmental, to be open minded to the way we do things, to try to put yourselves in our shoes, to have empathy, listen and pay attention. I would tell Caucasian autistics don’t seem or want to understand the same thing.
Doug: When you received your Autism diagnosis your doctor mentioned a program which holds social events for people on the Spectrum and you joined that group. I read where you said that this was important for you because it helped you to become a better self advocate. What have been some of the most valuable things you have done in developing your skills to get the things you need and want?
Emanuel: I have been patient, easy going, paying attention and listening to others. With regards to asking for things, I felt that I was a bit hesitant to ask for certain things from others because I tended to stutter and it was also how I was raised in my life. This was because close family members would interject and answer for me when I was growing up. It is one thing if you are a little kid, but when it happens when you are a teenager, it becomes frustrating. Also, I would not want someone asking me for things constantly either. By being in Adaptations and a few other support groups, I got to know some people and I like to think about how I am going to ask for others for things. In 2009, a lady named Katrina, from JobPath, helped me get two jobs through the customized employment program and the discovery program. In 2012, she also helped me ask one of my supervisors about obtaining health insurance because I was not available for Medicaid at the time. It took me about two years for me to get my rent subsidized. I had to go through the whole process of applying for Medicaid, getting services from OPWDD and going through a lot of different hurdles. I finally got my rent subsidized through the ISS. I will also apply for SSDI in the near future.
Doug: I know you don’t want to just advocate for yourself but for others as well through many different speaking engagements. Why is this important to you?
Emanuel: For me, I love doing speaking engagements at various events because it gives me confidence to help others know and understand my story. In this way, they can learn how to adapt in a way that would benefit them. Also, I would definitely like to facilitate groups on various topics that I know about in a style that would be most comfortable for me. This would give me even more confidence.
Doug: If someone wants to contact you for a speaking engagement what would be the best way to do so?
Emanuel: Email, email me at Efrowner181@aol.com.
Doug: Great, in talking about self advocacy in the disability community a common phrase is “nothing about us without us”. Which is why I was thrilled to see a film called “Keep The Change” which is a romantic comedy about Autistic people starring Autistic people and you were in that film. How did that opportunity come about for you?
Emanuel: The opportunity came to me when the director of the film, Rachel Israel, talked to me about being in a few roles in Keep the Change. I had to bring a few outfits before I was to be filmed so that they could see what I would be wearing for which scenes. I was filmed for quite a few days in August of 2015 and it was fun. I had to more or less look the same way in terms of keeping my facial hair the same and not cutting my hair. When they were filming other scenes, there was a lot of waiting around and one evening, I had to fight to stay awake. When the movie, came out in the spring of 2017, it was at the Tribeca film festival. It was a thrill to have been given the red carpet treatment and to have been part of the whole filming process.
Doug:What did you learn from that experience?
Emanuel: I learned that being part of that movie is not the end all and I want to be in a variety of acting roles going forward. I also want to see more autistic actors of various ethnic backgrounds star in movies so that they can show what they can do when given a chance.
Doug: How did you initially get involved in acting?
Emanuel: Growing up, I liked watching different types of movies and TV shows. I liked movies that were not always popular to others, but to me they were good. Other times, they probably should have won awards. I also liked certain TV shows that were good, but a few of them were cancelled, which saddened me quite a bit. I also love certain actors and actresses because they can act, but they are also handsome and pretty respectively. In 2008, when I was with Adaptations, Creative Alternatives on New York (CANY) came. We did a lot of improve, skits and we played out scenes. We did a performance called, To Be Seen 4 times in 2009 and once in January 2010. I was with them, until 2013. After that, I tried a few meetup groups where they had improv and it was good. The only problem was that, I did not get to know people as well. One was because the same people were not always there and the other reason was that there wasn’t that close knit relationship that I would have liked. In June of 2017, when I was with another support group, Aspies for Social Success, we went to a CO/LAB theater workshop and it really went well. I thought about joining, but I did not know how expensive the classes might me. When I was told that it was very cheap, that was the ice breaker/deal breaker for me. I have been in CO/LAB for 3 years and I have gotten to know quite a few people well and I am on the CO/LAB Advocacy Committee. I am also on the task force to help with getting ready for the 10-year anniversary of CO/LAB. We are also in the middle of a #Iamwithcolab crowdfunding campaign.
Doug: Do you think acting in any way has helped you to become a better self advocate?
Emanuel: For me, acting has helped me to take some risks and try new things. I like preparing for different performances because it helps me to keep focused and to give it my best. It has also helped me to do more public speaking. Also, I have had a few unresolved issues with a few family members and it is not likely that they will be resolved the way that I want them to be since most, if not all, have passed away. The few times that I have lost my temper, I was chastised for it. But by taking on acting roles that help me to face those issues and to speak and to express myself about them in skits, it could help me to fully move on. I would also love to take on acting roles where it features dating because it could help me with my dating in real life.
Doug: If there are Autistic people listening to this podcast who want to get involved in acting what is your advice to them?
Emanuel: My advice would be that if that is their passion, they should go for it. They should be around those who are supportive of them and try not pay attention to the naysayers. I would tell them don’t limit yourself, but at the same time don’t feel guilty if you cannot do things all at once.