Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind always had felt compelled to find and tell the stories of individuals around the world who had been discarded by society's norms. But it wasn't until decades into his career that he began to understand why: His pursuit was driven by the fact that, as he says, "the most dramatically discarded person was living in our bedroom."
Suskind's son, Owen, had been diagnosed with regressive autism as a child and had been declared uneducable. Thankfully Suskind and his wife Cornelia did not agree, ultimately discovering the key to communication with their son in an unlikely place: Disney movies. In his book, Life, Animated, Suskind tells the story of his family and the challenges and triumphs of being a family affected by autism. His book became a documentary film — also titled Life, Animated — that was nominated for an Academy Award. Suskind is heartened by the "large, warm, and powerfully inclusive" response to both the book and the film, a sign, he thinks, that attitudes are changing.
"At the core of it, it's about seeing folks who we often discard," says Suskind, "as not 'them,' but 'us.' That's part of the struggle that's reflected in both the book and the movie."
In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, conducted during National Autism Awareness Month, Suskind discusses his experiences as a parent to an autistic child, how it inspired the book and film, and how he became a vocal advocate for all families affected by autism.
The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iTunes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.