Owen Suskind, Journey of boy with autism to connect with his family aided by Disney movies

Disney's movies and autism awareness would appear to be two totally different subjects.

Except perhaps in the case of a remarkable young man whose fascinating journey is captured in a new book.

The characters and songs are indelibly linked to childhood fantasy.

But for at least one family, Disney's make believe, has provided a real way to communicate with their autistic son.

"He used these characters from Disney to develop an inner voice -- a kind of inner conversation about how he felt, what he believed, how to move forward," says Ron Suskind, the author of Life, Animated.

His son Owen, now 23, grew up watching movies like Dumbo and The Lion King on loop.

Of course, cartoons are not a certified solution or even a recommended one for most children with autism.

But for Owen, Disney animations provided a way for his parents to decode his thoughts and, most importantly, for him to share them.

"He started to repeat this gibberish you know at one point it was 'juservose', 'juservose.' We thought it was juice so we wanted to give him more juice and we had an epiphany."

"Just your voice!," it turned out, was a line of dialogue spoken by a character in The Little Mermaid.

"We said, 'just your voice! That's what you're saying.' and Owen looked right at us. It's the first time he really looked at me in about a year and he starting saying 'juservose', 'juservose.'"

Doctor's attributed the little mermaid breakthrough to a simple repetition of sounds, nothing but an echo really.

But the Suskinds felt strongly that he was showing real signs of connection.

They kept the Disney theme going strong, this time with Aladdin toys.

"I spoke to him using Iago, hiding under his bedspread I held up the parrot and I said, 'how does it feel to be you? To be Owen?' in Iago's voice and Owen responded, 'not good and I have no friends and I can't understand what people say and I'm lonely.'"

Working hard and with the help of doctors, Owen harnessed Disney's social lessons: making friends with The Jungle Book and overcoming adversity with Dumbo.

"It all is a matter of linkages, again coming from the source of his passion and then moving out to the many parts of traditional learning that come from that and are attached to it," says his father.

Owen's connection went beyond the screen.

At age 11, he could barely write his name.

But he inked detailed sketches of Disney cartoon characters line for line.

They're not of the heroes but of his favorites: the sidekicks.

"They help the hero fulfill his destiny. That's the definition of a sidekick. Some are goofy, some are wise, some are resourceful," says Suskind.

And in all of them, Owen sees himself.

"Ever drawn as a sidekick, he won't -- as he says, have himself redrawn -- but every day he says he searches, he says, for his inner hero. And that's a beautiful idea really," says his dad.

Owen is now at a special education college, acting as president of the Disney club and that's where he met his girlfriend.

"And of course every Disney movie, most of them end in a kiss," said Suskind.


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