A Life Animated: A story of heroes, sidekicks and autism
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When the Suskind family moves to a new home, they begin to see startling changes in their youngest son, Owen. He loses the ability to communicate with them and seems to retreat inside himself. The family embarks on a journey to find ways to reconnect with Owen via one of his favorite things: Disney movies.
This is an amazing, truly inspiring story. I’m awed by the courage it must have taken for both Owen and his family to continue pressing forward without giving up, even in moments when field experts were at a loss as to how to help, when specialized programs proved disappointing. Throughout the book, Owen’s father describes his son with love and affection, clearly impressing on readers his value, not just to his family, but as a human being.
For people who don’t personally know someone with an autism diagnosis, I imagine it could be easy to overlook the autistic community. Suskind makes this impossible. Though the book focuses on the family’s experience with their son, there are a lot of references to larger issues faced by families with autistic children or injustices within our system that limit the ability of families to provide much-needed care and assistance. I thought that was a great value, too. Many of those things I simply wasn’t familiar with. For a short time after I graduated, I worked for a behavior analyst extremely well-respected in the field, but that was more than ten years ago now, and I’m grossly under-informed these days.
The Disney references were really fun, and you’ll definitely get a lot more out of the story if you’re familiar with those classic movies, but they’re not the point of the book. The point is that those tales became a vehicle by which a remarkable boy rebuilt a way of communicating with the world around him.
I recommend this book because it’s such a great, triumphant story, and we all need that message, and also because this reminds us that we are all human, all valuable, no matter how we process information.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently. There’s one chapter in which most of the profanity occurs as part of an exposure therapy to help Owen deal with aftermath of a bullying incident.
Brief references to kissing.
The family prepares for and celebrates Owen’s Bar Mitzvah.
Owen’s older brother hosts a high school party which gets a bit out of hand. Lots of alcohol stored in the Suskind’s basement disappears during the party.
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