Life, Animated, a Story by Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism
written by Ron Suskind
Reviewed by John M. Williams
I have always been awed by the power and truth behind this phrase: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The phrase was coined Arthur Fletcher former head of the United Negro College Fund. The powerful phrase rings with truth. Its message can be applied to people with intellectual disabilities and does in Ron Suskind’s brilliantly written family biography on Owen’s, his youngest son, struggles with autism.
The biography Life, Animated, a Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism depicts nearly two decades of ups and downs by the Suskinds: Ron, Walt (Owen’s older brother) and Cornelia Kennedy (Owen’s mother) in dealing with Owen’s autism. Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winner, uses his best journalistic talents as he describes the daily struggles of Owen and the challenges he presents to himself, his brother and parents.
This is a story of love, patience and perseverance by Ron and Cornelia as they combat ignorance by professionals working in the autism area. It’s a story of encouragement to Owen as he grows up and starts honing his artistic and communication skills.
More than a love story, it is a discovery story. It is discovering at age 3 your son has lost his speech and you wonder why. It is hearing the foreign word “autism” and discovering its meaning.
It’s discovering prejudice toward people who are different.
It’s discovering the differences between learning disabilities and learning differences.
Its discovering that people with autism, such as Owen, are different but autism does not diminish their abilities.
It’s discovering that other people with children who are autistic are working just as hard to give their children the opportunity to succeed as you are.
Its discovering there is reason autistic children embrace a particular interest and when you find it, you will find them.
It’s discovering that your child with autism may need you the rest of his or her life, and even yours.
Discovering the power of Disney movies and their ability to bring individuals with autism out of their shell.
Discovering that since Own turned 3, the daunting demands of dealing with autism remain bottomless.
Discovering that not knowing what works with autistic children makes identifying the essentials nearly impossible.
Discovering that you’re your older brother is a hero and more so when he singlehandedly finds in the woods a lost girl with autism.
Discovering that your autistic son wants to go to college away from home and preparing for it.
Owen discovering the true meaning of friendship.
Owen discovering the memories of his first real kiss with a young woman.
Discovering that fear of one’s family being killed can cause a person with autism to become withdrawn for a long time.
Discovering what it means when Owen’s speech therapist tells him, “Owen, you are on your way.”
Life, Animation is the best book on coping with and confronting autism that I have read. It reveals dedicated parents who want their son with autism to be given the opportunity to succeed on his terms. Ron Suskind and Cornelia Kennedy are shown to be the strongest advocates for Owen. They are heroes to Owen and other people with autism. Walt is the big brother who protects Owen and accepts the deficiencies associated with Owen’s autism.
I believe the real hero in this book is Owen. He makes a remarkable transformation from someone who can’t be reached to a very talented artist and organizer. Disney movies and personnel play a remarkable role in this transformation. I was stunned when I discovered how Owen motivated himself to benefit from Disney’s characters in the movies, the actors who portray them and the artists who draw them.
Once I started reading, I wanted to keep on reading. Ron Suskind is not only a journalist but a historian. The book is filled with trivia details about Disney and other movies that appeal to its reader. There are 12 chapters. The last chapter titled, The Animated life was written by Ron and Owen Suskind. This chapter also has drawings by Owen. I was greatly impressed by them. So impressed that I remember this pearl of wisdom saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In Owen’s case this statement is true.
I purchased the book on Amazon for under $10.
John Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.