Ron Suskind explores how his autistic son Owen found a voice through the lessons and sidekicks in Disney films. The story is an excerpt from the journalist’s new book, Life, Animated:
Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.
But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.
PUBLISHED: March 9, 2014
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9118 words)
A look at how a cofounder of the Home Depot started the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Ga., which has been named an autism center of excellence by the National Institutes of Health. The center has hired a scientist from Yale who is looking at how eye-tracking technology can revolutionize autism treatment:
"Within ten months of arriving, Klin and his team competed with fifty-five other autism centers around the country for a National Institutes of Health award. Only three, including Marcus, won. Named an autism center of excellence, Marcus received an $8.3 million grant, much of which will be put toward continuing to research differences in 'social-visual and vocal engagement' among autistic infants. The center has built four eye-tracking labs in the last two years, where babies like Ansley Brane—who is low risk—can be tested for signs of autism. (The center’s fiscal health has improved too, though it still needs patrons: Since Children’s took over, operating losses have dropped from $3.2 million to $1.3 million per year.)
"'It’s a very simple equation,' says Klin. 'You identify early, you treat early, you help these children fulfill their promise. It’s good for everybody. If you don’t do that, then we are stuck with the kinds of incredible treatment programs we have in the center, which I hope to put out of business one day.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6358 words)
Parents of children on the autism spectrum are wading through a considerable amount of information on the Internet purporting effective treatment and "cures" for autism. A majority of the treatments have been discredited:
"Almost by accident, Laidler says he and Ann, discovered the diet they’d put their son on didn’t work. 'He was gluten-free and we thought it was a miraculous cure for our son because he’d made pretty dramatic strides from the age of 3 to 4. We were starting to see real progress. But on a trip to Disneyland, he grabbed a waffle off the table and ate it before we could stop him. Doctors had told us that one drop [of gluten] would cause a dramatic relapse—we’d been told anecdotal stories that a speck of wheat bread would cause an autistic child to have weeks of bad behavior. And nothing happened.'
"The Laidlers had also tried chelating their son, and as physicians they had helped other families who wanted to try it. 'Nobody ever told me it did any good. So to regain my sense of mental balance I started asking a lot of pointed questions: Have you tried chelation? What was the result? Ninety percent of people I asked said they saw no improvement.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5712 words)
An eight-year-old autistic boy disappears into a densely forested park in Virginia for five days. The frantic search to find a child who doesn't understand he's in danger:
"Because of his autism, Robert probably didn’t know that he was lost. If he heard people coming through the woods, he might well have taken cover from them, thinking it was a game of hide-and-seek. Or he might not have wanted to be found by a stranger, even one calling out his name. This made efforts to locate him extremely difficult, and it’s how Robert managed to elude what would soon become one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in Virginia history.
"When he disappeared that day, Robert began an unlikely adventure that placed him at the center of the newest concern in the search-and-rescue (SAR) world: lost autistic children. Why autistic kids have the tendency to run off is not known, but the urge is strong in half of all children diagnosed with the disorder."
PUBLISHED: July 12, 2012
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7298 words)
From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.
Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.
“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.
“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.
He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 26, 2011
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5446 words)
Children with autism will become adults with autism, some 500,000 of them in this decade alone. What then? Meet Donald Gray Triplett, 77, of Forest, Mississippi. He was the first person ever diagnosed with autism.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 1, 2010
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8165 words)
The underlying argument has not changed: Vaccines harm America’s children, and doctors like Paul Offit are paid shills of the drug industry. To be clear, there is no credible evidence to indicate that any of this is true. None. Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 20011) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 19, 2009
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7151 words)
The unacceptable ways we sometimes talk and think about the autism spectrum.
PUBLISHED: July 13, 2009
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2782 words)
Wish Away Cancer! Get A Lunchtime Face-Lift! Eradicate Autism! Turn Back The Clock! Thin Your Thighs! Cure Menopause! Harness Positive Energy! Erase Wrinkles! Banish Obesity! Live Your Best Life Ever!
PUBLISHED: May 30, 2009
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6260 words)