"Life, Animated:" Author Does Q & A with Social Media

(March 12, 2014) - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind will publish a memoir "Life, Animated" on April 1. Suskind's memoir follows his 20-year journey in connecting with his son Owen, who has autism. Owen, who lost the ability to communicate at the age of 3, memorized animated Disney movies, and he and his family learned to communicate using dialog and scenarios from the films.

An excerpt from the book appeared in the New York Times Magazine and it was so popular, The New York Times had Suskind back to answer questions submitted via social media. Check out some of the Q & A below. 

How long did it take you to find Disney movies? Was that Owen’s first deep interest, even before diagnosis?@TragicSandwich, posted to Twitter

Owen loved Disney movies before the autism expressed itself, just shy of his 3rd birthday. But it wasn’t just Disney. He loved “Thomas the Tank Engine.” He was big into the Ninja Turtles. The basic menu for kids his age. This is the stuff that cossets them in our culture. Once the autism arrived and he couldn’t draw much from human interactions, he turned to it as his lifeboat.

I was struck by the moment when you first heard Owen make an intelligent observation and was surprised to find that something was really going on in his head. Doesn’t autism only limit the expression of feelings and thoughts, not with having them? HDB, posted to nytimes.com

For many years, leading researchers, including the celebrated psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, blamed autism on “refrigerator mothers” who withheld affection. The suffering this caused to already overwhelmed moms, over decades, is unfathomable. There was nothing to it (as became irrefutably clear when the genetic basis of autism became visible in twin studies by Boston’s Margaret Bauman in the early 1980s). I think there was a lingering corollary for this period: If they can’t express emotion, they don’t have emotion. As late as 2001, a leading researcher was testifying before Congress that autistic kids were emotionless, soulless. No one buys that anymore. But some still wonder if they “want” to connect with others. Most leading researchers have come around on that, too. Twenty years ago, that was our starting point — Owen wants what everyone wants. The question was never whether. Always how.

Read the full Q & A on the New York Times website.  

The New York Times video below shows just how Suskin and Owen communicate using dialogue from Disney films.

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