I call your attention to the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and best-selling author Ron Suskind ’s latest book, a memoir, Life, Animated, A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism because the remarkable journey of his family to find their way to connect with their son Owen reminds me of some of the very best we strive for in the psychothera-peutic relationship. Owen, as present in 1/3 of the cases of the millions of children with autism, has regressive autism, that is, he appeared to develop normally but then began, in his case before his third birthday, to lose speech and social skills. Owen, without necessarily comprehending, memorized the entire scripts of the Disney films that he for so long and continued to watch, and he could do all the characters’ voices, too. Initially, the Suskinds discouraged as non-productive Owen’s perseverative obsession with Disney animated characters. But in their attempt to look for a way into the psychological life of their son, cut off from the rest of the family, they decided to use what Owen presented to them as the key to make their way in, and his entire family became proficient in Disney voices. Suskind would even recommend dancing in front of the TV screen if need be.
I take this as good advice, jumping into the rabbit hole as it were, with some of our most unreachable patients, even those with psychosis, instead of trying to make them conform to our ideas of how to communicate a narrative; to use what is presented and find within its inexplicable vehicle some nidus around which together to build meaning [meaning, after all, arises from within connection]; To bend the frame as needed, dance in front of the screen, if there exists any hope to reach the unreachable. In other words, welcome in, welcome in, with an attitude of ‘If you want, I want to,’ for without connection, there is a deadness to our being together.
To animate both their lives, Suskind and his wife, and their older son Walt, decided to go where Owen was. What they previously had thought was a prison for Owen has become a pathway to communication between them. Remembering from the Lion King’s ‘Remember who you are,’ Suskind asks Owen, ‘Who are you, Owen?’ and Owen, remembering, too, replies, ‘Your son.’