This blog post is part of a summer-long series of posts written by Humanities Blogger, Kristen Costa. Check back weekly to get a fresh, informative look at the themes explored in the films we’ll be showing as part of the newportFILM Outdoors series, presented by Lila Delman Real Estate International.
Life, Animated tells the remarkable story of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who found a way to communicate through Disney movies. This moving film is based on the book Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism written by his father & journalist Ron Suskind.
It’s likely many people know at least someone connected with autism – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children is identified as having autism spectrum disorder. Autism is characterized as a developmental disability that can have significant impacts on social, communication, and behavioral skills and abilities.
Individuals along the autism spectrum can often be very detail-oriented and introverted. For many on the spectrum, there often is an intense interest in a subject that can often become their main point of communication and interaction, just like Owen with Disney films. Whether it’s baseball, Star Wars, or presidential history, the information, trivia, and facts offer an opportunity to immerse in a topic as a means of comfort that helps them understand the world in a better way. Many psychologists who work with autistic children use films, especially cartoons, as a way to teach needed skills because of the way behaviors or actions are explained in clear ways. For Owen, Disney films gave him an understanding of the world and how to act in it, as well as a mechanism for his parents to connect with him in meaningful ways.
Many on the spectrum have found great success in applying these traits to work environments where those skills are highly desired. Many training programs for autistic students center on highlighting these interests, while teaching social skills for life. One such program is Exceptional Minds, a California-based nonprofit vocational school that teaches autistic students with a focus on jobs in the film, television, and music industry. The program trains autistic students in animation and visual effects, two fields that require a “superpower attention to detail,” as described by Exceptional Minds. A team from the program worked on the post-production visual effects cleanup on the 2013 film American Hustle and the 2015 Alvin and the Chipmunks film.
While the causes and therapies for autism spectrum disorder vary for each individual, it’s clear that with inspiring stories like Owen’s in Life, Animated that there is hope and opportunity available for autistic individuals and their families.
For more information on autism, check out the website for the Autism Speaks advocacy organization: www.autismspeaks.org.
To read more about Exceptional Minds and their various programs, visit their website: www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org.
For more information on this week’s Outdoor screening of Life, Animated visit bit.ly/AnimatedDoc.
The Humanities Blog Series is made possible through major funding support from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independant affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Council seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders.