aec highlights
AEC Second General Session:
Author Ron Suskind knows the value of storytelling
Author Ron Suskind
To say Ron Suskind is a fan of stories barely scratches the surface of how they have impacted his life, and, as he would contend, all our lives. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Suskind shared stories of the struggles faced by inner-city honors students in Washington, D.C. As an author of six best-selling books, including Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President — considered the definitive work on the Obama presidency and the 2008 financial crisis — and The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neil, he pulled back the curtain to reveal the kinds of stories non-insiders are rarely privy to.
“We all tell ourselves stories that help us make our way in the world,” Suskind says on his website — and it’s true. Even prior to the written word, oral storytelling through song or epic poetry was passed from generation to generation, often in attempts to explain natural phenomena not yet fully understood. And just last year, psychologists at McMaster University published findings that suggest no matter how a narrative is expressed, whether through words, gestures or drawings, the human brain relates best to characters, focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist of each story.

Suskind tells a more personal story in his most recent book, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, which was turned into an Emmy-winning documentary by Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams.

In 1993, soon after he and his family moved to D.C., Suskind and his wife realized that their younger son Owen, once a chatty and social baby, wouldn’t speak or look his parents in the eye as his third birthday neared. Owen was diagnosed with autism, a condition far less understood more than 25 years ago. Over time, it became apparent that Owen would memorize dialogue from classic animated Disney movies he would watch over and over again.

“If we threw him a line, he’d throw us back the next one,” Suskind explains on his site. “My house became an elaborate Disney stage set, and through it I was able to reach my son. In the process, he taught me more than I could have ever imagined.”

The 2014 release of Life, Animated has spurred exciting research on affinities, the strong interests that children with autism use as codebreakers to understand themselves and the world around them, Suskind said. He recently worked with Autism Speaks — the largest autism advocacy organization in the United States — on a survey of 2,600 parents, autistic people, professionals, family members and others connected to the autism community. The yet-to-be-released results will describe the wide array of affinities and the effects they have on those in the autism community.

After the Second General Session, be sure to check out a free screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, LIFE, ANIMATED based on Suskind’s best-selling book. Friday, Dec. 6, from 4-6 p.m.