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Animation, autism and affinities: the Suskind family's story

Life Animated
Ron Suskind's son, Owen, found his voice through "Disney dialogue" after his autism diagnosis.

April is Autism Awareness month – and this week we’re sharing the story of a remarkable transformation for one boy living with autism and his family.


Delaware Public Media’s Megan Pauly spoke with Ron Suskind about his business – Sidekicks – inspired by his son Owen’s special connection to Disney, and research he’s involved with about the affinities of those with autism.


Wilmington native and former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind’s son Owen was diagnosed with late-onset autism when he was 2 ½ and he started to loose his speech. He didn’t talk for a long while, but eventually started connecting to his parents and brother through animated characters – engaging in Disney dialogue.


“The one thing he liked before the autism struck – most – is the thing he most liked afterwards, too – which is waking the Disney animated movies," Suskind said.


He says Owen would rewind Disney movies to replay key parts of movies, like the line in the Little Mermaid when the Ursula asks for Ariel’s voice.


Eventually, Suskind found himself using the puppet of Iago – Jaffar’s Sidekick - to talk to Owen through.


He wrote the book “Life, Animated” about his family’s journey with son Owen a few years ago. The book has since been made into a documentary – following Owen’s life into adulthood as he has transitioned to a supported independent living condo in Cape Cod.

Movies are still an important part of Owen’s life, as he’s working in a Regal Cinema. Suskind says Owen remembers every movie – including how he felt.


“What day, what movie, what day, who came, what theater," Suskind said. "There’s no better place for him to be working than the temple of cinema.”


Owen also creates artwork inspired by Disney animation – and has a radio show called DJ animator, playing songs from Disney films and other music that have meant something to Owen.

It’s these experiences that led him to found a company called Sidekicks – helping other families to have similar experiences.

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