The New York Times published some excerpts from Ron Suskind’s “Life, Animated.” This is an amazing piece about Suskind’s son Owen, who suffers from autism and how Owen found language and emotional connection through Disney. Suskind gives a new outlook, and perspective on autism.
“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. These are stored sounds we can now help him contextualize, with jumping, twirling, sweating, joyous expression, as we just managed with “The Jungle Book.”
There’s a reason — a good-enough reason — that each autistic person has embraced a particular interest. Find that reason, and you will find them, hiding in there, and maybe get a glimpse of their underlying capacities. In our experience, we found that showing authentic interest will help them feel dignity and impel them to show you more, complete with maps and navigational tools that may help to guide their development, their growth. Revealed capability, in turn, may lead to a better understanding of what’s possible in the lives of many people who are challenged.”