Boy with autism uses Disney films to communicate with parents

NEW YORK (WABC) -- As a child with autism, Owen Suskind was unable to speak and had trouble connecting to the world around him. That is, until his family cracked the code of how to communicate with him.

It was a code that was hiding inside some of Owen's favorite movies, and now, a new documentary called "Life, Animated" describes Owen's journey and his family's struggles.

Owen fell silent when he was 3 years old, vanishing into the world of regressive autism. And though he was silent, his family noticed that Owen liked watching Disney animated films over and over.

"He stopped speaking completely, and stopped making eye contact with his parents," the film's director, Roger Ross Williams, said. "For years and years, he watches these films, and then a few years later he utters his first word."

One word from a line in "The Little Mermaid" led to another, and Owen's big breakthrough came thanks to "Aladdin." Owen's dad mimicked the voice of the parrot, Iago, and used a puppet of the character to talk to his son. And he soon found he could communicate with his son through the movie's dialogue.

"He could communicate with his son through Disney dialogue," Williams aid. "So the whole family starts speaking Disney dialogue."

Their success offers hope that others with autism can be reached using similar treatment called "affinity therapy."

"They happily keep me entertained and help me find my place in the world," Owen said during a recent stop by "The View."

And watching him, now in in his mid-20s, it's easy to see why Williams was inspired to make the movie.

"This is really a film about family and the power of love to overcome challenges," he said. "You know, they found a pathway to their son, because they love their son so much. They were determined to reach him any way they could."

Affinity therapy takes one area of interest, like animated movies, and uses it connect to a person living with autism.

Disney is the parent company of WABC-TV, but "Life, Animated" was made independently, and Disney had no editorial control over the film's content.
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