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There are still a lot of things that we don’t know about autism, but this family found a way to make life, well, animated for their son anyway!
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind moved his family to Washington, DC in 1993 to work for The Wall Street Journal. This included two-year-old Owen, who stopped talking completely after the move.
Doctors later diagnosed him with regressive autism, and the only thing that helped were Disney movies!
Years later — Owen is 21 years old now — Ron is publishing a book, Life, Animated about their journey with their son.
Living through all of it, Ron and his family have learned a lot and he’s sharing the story with the world!
The first question is, why Disney movies??? Ron explained:
“The early '90s were a Disney renaissance. Every kid was watching the mermaid, the genie, and the lion. Add to that the [widespread use] of the VCR in the late '80s. Movie obsessives could dig into their favorite narratives: those that reflected how they felt. Multiply that by 20 for a kid like Owen… Every autistic spectrum kid has an affinity – Disney, anime, maps, train schedules. Plenty of therapists argued, and still do, that these affinities are something to be reduced, even cut off. Early on, we tried using Disney as a behavior tool. You know, if you want to watch your movies, you’re going have to walk over hot coals first. Owen would buckle down, and try to do the thing we asked. But eventually, he would flag. It was like we’d cut off his source of nourishment.”
Wow! That’s actually pretty fascinating! And to get involved with their son, Ron and his wife, Cornelia, would reenact scenes with Owen! Then, on older brother Walter’s 10th birthday, he said a complete sentence for the first time in four years, declaring, “Walter doesn’t want to grow up, like Mowgli and Peter Pan."
As time went on, Owen started making up his own stories about the characters. It’s the sweetest thing! Ron explained:
“Watching Aladdin, Owen bonded with Jafar’s sidekick Iago. But once he could understand that Iago was a bad guy, he had a dilemma. How could he be friendly towards a bad guy? So he conceived of a narrative solution. He came up with the line, “Anyone with that strong a sense of humor has to have some good in him,”and added a new scene in which Iago frees Aladdin from jail, saving the day. Ask him to write about Lincoln for a school assignment, you’d get nothing. Here, it was lucid.”
Now, Owen lives a pretty normal life, is in a college program and has even had a girlfriend for two years!
Ron also added that scientists have thanked him for writing this book because it has helped a lot with their research!
Incredible! Sounds like a great read!
[Image via Ron Suskind.]