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A Pathway, Not a Prison: Jon Stewart Talks to Ron Suskind About Autism, Disney, and His Son

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Ron Suskind, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Life, Animated, appeared on “The Daily Show” to talk about autism with Jon Stewart. Ron opened up about the experience of watching his son disappear as regressive autism slowly changed Owen from the child they knew into an entirely different person. This new child seemed unreachable until the Suskind family embraced Owen’s fascination with Disney movies and learned to talk with him all over again.

Too often, Ron says, families discourage their children’s special interests. Instead, he invites us to view these affinities as “more pathway than prison;” an emotional toolkit, in some cases, that individuals with autism use to make their way in the world. He explains, “A lot of these kids have a deep emotional core that’s very powerful, certainly Owen does, and the only way it could emerge was through this pathway.” Indeed, Owen’s social growth has been incredible. Of his son’s progress, Ron says, “Owen and I together built a kind of vehicle that he now drives out into the world.”

In the extended interview available online, Ron shares a moving story about fatherhood and emotional connections. Since Ron has started speaking publicly about his family’s experience, many parents have reached out to him. One father sought Ron’s thoughts on his son, consumed by an interest in maps, and the fear that he would be unable to reach his child. Now, that child draws imaginary maps of his feelings and shares them with his family.

At 19, Owen declared that he wanted people to know him and to know about others like him. Ron agreed. He and his wife asked themselves, “Would this have been helpful to us 15 years ago when we were really in the darkness and fear?” and the answer was “yes, of course.” And so a book that Jon Stewart called “heartbreaking” and “hopeful” was born.

Owen himself makes an appearance to show off his talent for voices. Reciting lines from one his favorite films, he is both Simba and Mufasa from The Lion King as he intones:

“You must take your place in the circle of life.”
“But how can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.”
“Remember who you are. You are my son.”
And when Ron asks “Who are you, Owen?” he answers “Your son,” and smiles.


 

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