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.
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.