I just started watching a documentary film called Life, Animated. The film focuses on the Suskind family. Owen is a seemingly “normal” kid…until he turns 3. According to Owen’s dad, “Once Owen turned 3, he stopped talking”. The parents are obviously freaked out. What could cause such a drastic change in a kid? The Suskinds took Owen to a pediatrician but medically they couldn’t find anything. Then they go to a specialist who observes Owen. The specialist diagnoses Owen with Autism. The parents are devastated. Remember, back in the early 1990s, all people really knew about ASD was Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. So this sort of is why the parents freaked out. Then the specialist says Owen may never get his speech back. As Owen’s dad put it, “It was like our son was gone. Someone had kidnapped our son”. I can sort of understand where the parents would be concerned at this point. But then something happened. See, Owen and his brother, Walt, are Disney fanatics. Especially Owen. Owen’s dad recalls the time about a year after Owen stopped speaking that they were watching The Little Mermaid. It got to the part where Ursula the Sea Witch was coercing Ariel into trading her voice for legs. “Just your voice”. Owen suddenly says something the parents thought was “juice”. So his mom gives him juice and he pushes it away. He keeps rewinding the VHS tape to Ursula saying “Just your voice”. Owen’s dad realizes he isn’t saying “juice”. Owen is saying “Just”. Owen runs the words together, but amazingly manages to get out “Juicervose”. This is interpreted as “Just your voice”. The parents call the specialist. He says not to get overly excited. Owen probably has echolalia. Echolalia is when someone has conversations in dialogue they know is familiar to them. For Owen, that was Disney movies. Owen actually fades into gibberish again. Until four years later. Walt is having his 9th birthday. Owen, without any prompting, walks into the room, looks at the parents, and clearly says “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli or Peter Pan”. The parents were dumbfounded. As Owen’s mom put it, “Where the Hell did that come from?” Owen’s parents try to figure out if they can get Owen to talk to them and have a conversation based on what they know and just heard. Owen’s dad picks up a Iago puppet from Aladdin and asks in the parrot’s voice, “Owen how does it feel to be you?” Owen replies, “Not good because I don’t have any friends”. Owen is connecting with his dad through an inanimate object. Owen’s dad asks “When did you and I become such good friends?” Still as Iago. Owen says “When I watched Aladdin you made me laugh.” The dad then says the two of them had about a 90 second “normal” conversation. Owen’s dad has a revelation and the family begins to talk to Owen in Disney dialogue. Owen’s mom explains, “Things change. As parents we are getting older. People change, people are dying. Walt and Owen are getting older. But the Disney films are the one thing that will never change.” Owen’s mom plans a trip to Disney. She says Owen “used different movie scenes to express his feelings. Like Hercules for not giving up, Jungle Book for wanting friends and Pinocchio for wanting to be a real boy”. This is such an amazing documentary! Just watch it.