Life, Animated: Autism and Reconnecting Through Disney
Thursday, March 12th 2013
Over the years, I have become immersed in the world of special needs. I have raised a child with special needs, my daughter Ellie, and experienced first hand the unique challenges and joys that that are associated with that journey. I have scheduled and attended countless medical and therapy appointments, struggled with Ellie’s health issues, and attended PTA meetings at schools for children with special needs. I’ve advocated for issues that directly affect my child, and other children with disabilities. Finally, I founded and continue to run a business that is directly focused on helping other parents of children with special needs secure successful, happy and productive futures for their children.
Throughout it all (the struggles, the challenges, the failures, the successes, and the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life) one of the best parts of my special needs journey has been, without a doubt, the amazing people and families that I’ve met along the way. The Suskinds – Ron, Cornelia, Walter and Owen – are one such family.
Today’s blog will be devoted to that incredible family and Ron’s latest project, a book titled Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism.
There are times when you read a book, and you can appreciate (with objective passivity) the technical skill that went into the craft; the emotions that play across the pages, the twists and turns of the plot. There are also times when you read a novel and from the very first word you are hooked – by the end of the first page, the rest of the world has faded away and you exist solely in the universe that the author has created for you. Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of four other books (all New York Times bestsellers), has created both experiences in his latest work, titled Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism.
Life, Animated is the real life story of Ron and his family. Specifically, the story is about his son Owen, and Owen’s journey and experiences living with autism. An excerpt from the book reads:
“In our first year in Washington, our son disappeared. Just shy of his 3rd birthday, an engaged, chatty child, full of typical speech – “I love you,” “Where are my Ninja Turtles?” “Let’s get ice cream!” – fell silent. He cried, inconsolably. Didn’t sleep. Wouldn’t make eye contact. His only word was “juice.”
Owen was eventually diagnosed with Regressive Autism, a disorder that affects about one third of the children with ASD. As Ron writes, “this group [children with Regressive Autism] seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months – then they vanish.” Every parent’s nightmare.
Life, Animated isn’t really about this nightmare, however, nor does it focus entirely on the horrors of watching your child slowly disappear into a world that we cannot comprehend; rather, it is about hope. It describes the journey that Owen took as he began to emerge from that world, to regain his ability to communicate, to express emotion – to reestablish his connections and relationships with the outside world. And according to Ron, his wife Cornelia and their son Walter, it was Disney – specifically Disney’s impressive roster of animated films – that helped Owen accomplish exactly that:
“When Owen was 3, his comprehension of spoken words collapsed. That’s clear from every test. But now it seems that as he watched each Disney movie again and again, he was collecting and logging sounds and rhythms, multitrack. Speech, of course, has its own subtle musicality; most of us, focusing on the words and their meanings, don’t hear it. But that’s all he heard for years, words as intonation and cadence, their meanings inscrutable. It was like someone memorizing an Akira Kurosawa movie without knowing Japanese. Then it seems he was slowly learning Japanese — or, rather, spoken English — by using the exaggerated facial expressions of the animated characters, the situations they were in, the way they interacted to help define all those mysterious sounds. That’s what we start to assume; after all, that’s the way babies learn to speak. But this is slightly different because of the way he committed these vast swaths of source material, dozens of Disney movies, to memory.”
Ron has released the first chapter of Life, Animated on his website – it is truly a must read. In addition to this, an excerpt from the book has been published in the March 9th edition of the New York Times Magazine, and is also available online at nytimes.com. The book is not set for release until April 1st, but for those of you would like more information, Good Morning America aired a segment on March 10th (click here to access) and a google search displays numerous articles that focus on Ron, the Suskinds, and Owen in particular. You can also visit Ron’s website, www.ronsuskind.com to learn more about the book, or any of Ron’s work.
How Do I Get A Copy?
Here at M&L, we are so happy to be able to share Ron’s incredible work with you. Ellie and Owen met in 2007 at The Katherine Thomas School (KTS) in Rockville Maryland. We count ourselves lucky to continue to share our lives with them today. It seems for fifteen years while Ellie and Owen were going to basically the same therapists and professionals, Cornelia and I did not meet until Owen took a liking to Ellie at KTS. Owen has since moved on, and we remain very close to all the Suskinds. Thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope that reading Owen’s story will inspire and move you, as much as we have been inspired and moved by knowing him.
As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, comments, or would like to begin the process of planning for your child with special needs please contact us – we are here to help. Happy Thursday!
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