Culture > Disney films help unlock people with autism

Posted on December 15, 2016

Imagery by Ethically Yours

Imagery by Ethically Yours

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira talks about how animation helps him see the magic of life
For nearly 80 years the films made by Walt Disney have been very recognisable by audiences worldwide. The magic of those movies has also helped young people who are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); people like Owen Suskind.

In the early 1990s, Owen, aged only three, was suddenly diagnosed with reggressive autism. This means that young people who can’t talk get frustrated when they try to make someone understand what they’re saying, which makes them become physical, potentially damaging themselves and their surroundings.

At the time Owen stopped talking, he was unable to sleep or walk and make eye contact, which made his parents, Ron and Cornelia, very worried about his future.

If Walt Disney hadn't produced these enchanted films then maybe I wouldn't have been able to understand the real world

Aged around seven, Owen found comfort by watching animated Disney films for hours, which is when the magic happened.

Cornelia and Ron were amazed as Owen started to get his voice back after having been mute for years. At his older brother, Walter’s ninth birthday party, Owen spoke for the first time: “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Peter Pan and Mowgli.”

The Disney films inspired Owen to expand his communication by memorising the dialogue and drawing his favourite characters, especially the sidekicks such as like Iago from Aladdin.

Owen is now 25 and, after graduating from college, has two jobs, at a toyshop and his local cinema. He is now living independently in his own accommodation.

In a recent interview, Owen said, “The Disney films have helped me to find a place in the real world, which can help me with the ways of life.”

His father Ron has written a book called Life Animated, which was later adapted into a documentary, telling the true story of Owen and his family.

This can also help people with autism to bond with the animated characters as well as learn about being positive, having manners and experiencing the dark side of life.

In addition, many autistic people have a good memory on a special interest and are able to repeat and rewind scenes from their favourite shows or films in great detail.

I can relate very much to Owen, because I also like Disney films. They are very colourful, inspiring and have made me acknowledge real life in a different way.

For example, I found the 1942 classic, Bambi emotional. It made me understand the dangers of growing up in the forest. Watching the animals escaping from a hunter who was about to shoot them has made me realise that the real world around me can sometimes be dangerous when I’m outside my own home.

Another film I watched, the 1995 Toy Story made me learn that being different makes us special. Like when Buzz Lightyear finally realised that he’s a toy, Woody then tells him that being a toy is much better than being a real space ranger. The movie also shows the meaning of friendship and that it can lead to achieving adventurous goals in life.

I also take an interest in other cartoons and live-action too, but if Walt Disney hadn’t produced these enchanting films then maybe I wouldn’t have been able to understand the real world in front of me.

Apart from the book, Life Animated documentary will be on DVD by the 30th January 2017 from Amazon.

Max Ferreira
As well as a college student, Max Ferreira is a creative author. A regular at Exposure his autism helps him develop special creative ideas. He has published a series of stories about his experience with autism available on Kindle.

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2 Responses to Disney films help unlock people with autism

  1. Shakira Dyer December 30, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    This film looks amazing! Also, Owen Susakind and his family created a mobile app called Sidekicks (according to them, named by Owen himself) https://sidekicks.com/. It allows autistic children to connect with thier parents, who are using the app on another computer to send them messages- and discuss concepts such as feeling, but in the context of the child’s favourite movies.

    This was a great article, Max- as always!

  2. Shakira Dyer December 30, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    Yup, it was definately named by Owen: http://lifeanimated.net/

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