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Three months before his third birthday, Ron Suskind’s son Owen stopped speaking. He wouldn’t make eye contact, couldn’t sleep well—he retreated into himself. It was autism. Second opinions, special schools, and speech therapy soon followed. But then, unexpectedly, Suskind and his wife, Cornelia, and their older son, Walter, found a way to reach Owen through Disney movies. The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Hercules, Aladdin—the pantheon of cartoon protagonists whom Owen had watched before he began to recede helped him find his voice again. He would mimic the scripts; his family members would eagerly join the cast.
Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and former Esquire contributor, recently published a book about his family’s experience, titled Life, Animated. We called him recently to talk about raising a son who came to embody every prospective parent’s worst fear—and whether that fear is warranted at all.