Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Life, Animated by Ron Suskind (book review)

I know I do many book reviews on here, but let me tell you this: "Life, Animated" by Ron Suskind is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Perhaps because it is so personal to me - about Ron's son who has autism and loves Disney movies. My own son with autism loves movies and tv in general - he doesn't care who makes it. But he, too, has a vast knowledge of lines running through his head.
image via Ron Suskind's website
Suskind's son, Owen, used Disney movies (older, hand-drawn ones as this was mostly in the 90s) after he regressed into autism (unlike my own son who didn't regress, just stopped progressing for awhile) around age three. He used Disney to re-learn to speak, later to read (using the credits), and always to communicate with his family. Sometimes my son will use lines from movies or shows in appropriate ways but the Suskind family truly used whole scenes to develop a unique way to speak with their son.

I am just amazed at the parents, using their son's affinity to build on it rather than treat it as something to be stopped. Many times autistic children have an affinity (my son's is mostly Cars and now superheroes with some minions thrown in there) and it's labeled as "bad" because it's so overwhelming, overtaking. The Suskinds used Owen's Disney affinity to reach him, teach him (quite literally in homeschooling him for several years to generally to teach him about life using themes), and ultimately love him.

I cried so many times over and over. I love when Suskind talked of Owen's "happy face" - this exaggerated smiley face Owen makes when he's trying so hard not to cry. My son does something similar. He'll giggle and say "you're teasing me" but you can hear the tears just behind the surface. I about died laughing when I read this in the book. There's just something about reading this story that too many times I thought "oh it's not just him/us." I felt a real camaraderie with this family.

Truly, I am so thankful they wrote this book. I pray my son can travel some of these same roads Owen has been able to travel - going away to college, meeting a girl he loves. I don't know the future - sure wish I did - but I know it's going to be alright because the more there are books like this, the more my son will be accepted for who he is too.

Disclaimer: I just read this book at the recommendation of a friend. All opinions are my own. You can read more about the Suskinds through this article in the NY Times or Suskind's website.

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