Life Ani­mat­ed: A Sto­ry of Side­kicks, Heroes, and Autism

Ron Suskind
  • Review
By – July 8, 2014

With one in eighty-eight chil­dren in the U.S. now affect­ed by autism, a book about a father’s jour­ney to con­nect with his strick­en child is not only impor­tant, it’s crit­i­cal. As ten­der and beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten as it is bru­tal­ly hon­est, Life Ani­mat­ed brings to the fore­front of our con­scious­ness the unique chal­lenges, heart­breaks, tri­umphs, and hopes of a fam­i­ly fac­ing autism.

Ear­ly in his son Owen’s life he was just a reg­u­lar lit­tle kid, chat­ting with every­one and inter­act­ing in age-appro­pri­ate ways. But just before his third birth­day, he became sud­den­ly mute. He stopped eat­ing and sleep­ing, and all he did was cry. He seemed unable to under­stand speech. Noth­ing his fam­i­ly did could con­sole him.

Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning jour­nal­ist, author of five pre­vi­ous books, and a for­mer nation­al affairs writer for the Wall Street Jour­nal, under­stands the pow­er of words and the way in which sto­ries shape our thoughts and give them mean­ing. He began to see that the only way to reach his child was through the boy’s only solace: the Dis­ney ani­mat­ed movies he had loved before his strug­gles began. Suskind and his wife and old­er son were will­ing to enter a brave new world of the imag­i­na­tion to find and con­nect with Owen through the Dis­ney movies.

This is a father-son love sto­ry that takes place so far away from the usu­al clichés about this rela­tion­ship that it enters new ter­ri­to­ry and breaks new ground. When his world was turned upside-down, Suskind found a way to live in it suc­cess­ful­ly, fos­ter­ing inno­v­a­tive kinds of inter­ac­tion with Owen and reach­ing into his mind with love. In this way, Owen became able to shape an iden­ti­ty for him­self and grow emotionally.

The book spans a peri­od of twen­ty years, a vast piece of time in the life of a fam­i­ly. With del­i­ca­cy and pre­ci­sion, Suskind tells his har­row­ing sto­ry, and we hang on every event, each loss, each gain, each step for­ward and each step back. This is a fam­i­ly saga that incor­po­rates all the ele­ments of a detec­tive sto­ry, and the read­er waits in sus­pense to see how it will work out in the end.

Relat­ed Content

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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