Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Disney Therapy

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 13, 2014

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/magazine/reaching-my-autistic-son-through-disney.html?referrer=

“That’s 15 years. These people have helped Cornelia and me parent our son. It’s a humbling thought, and one that prompts a blurring of lines between hired professional and friend.”

Owen, the boy in the picture, and the article, connects to Disney characters like an Oliver Sachs book. His brain begins to develop, then reverses itself, and then comes to life through the stories and characters in Disney movies. Of the many remarkable aspects of this story, the parents, at first devastated, re-booted to see their son thrive when he could relate life to a story that touched him. And so they taught the therapists how to help Owen, and so the therapists listened, and a new village was formed; a village with both real people and imaginary characters, woven together to help Owen achieve independence and self-esteem. Owen sees his brother get sad around his birthday, and so, like Peter Pan, understands that his brother is sad to grow up. This understanding is astounding given Owen’s apparent language deficits. Peter Pan gives him the words to express himself, helping his parents to see the tools needed to tap into Owen’s deep empathy. Ron Suskind, Owen’s dad, is writing a book. Often, I am suspicious of parents who write about their family members for, what could be, purely narcissistic gratification, or shameless self-promotion. In this case, though, Mr. Suskind is doing an amazing public service. If we listen carefully, he argues, we can learn how to help. Yes!

6 Responses to “Disney Therapy”

  1. Jon said

    What a sad, and yet silver lining story. I have never heard of “regressive autism.” Is this a new distinction within the field? How wonderful that Owen and his family have found such a way of dealing with such a sad state of retrogression.

    • Hi Jon!
      Yes, a small percentage of autistic folks begin with normal development and then go backwards, losing verbal skills. Indeed sad, but at the same time points to a curious aspect of brain development that we have yet to understand. Clinically, we have seen this phenomena for many decades, but now,thanks to Mr. Suskind, this will make the public more familiar with this, at first, devastating experience, but with time,and adaptation, a new way of being in the world. Thanks.

  2. Ellen said

    I found this article so inspiring – thanks for posting the link and summary. I love the idea of movies/stories being able to have such a profound effect and being so helpful. I also love Disney movies, though obviously don’t have autism to contend with.

    About the book written by a parent – I think it helps a lot that Suskind is an excellent, professional writer, as well as having all kinds of empathy for his son. I’d read his book.

    • Thanks, Ellen. Yes, human experience influences the arts and the arts influence human experience. The bi-directionality of this phenomena intrigued me as well.

  3. Shelly said

    Why do you think it is narcissistic to want to write a book about their experiences? I have often thought that I would write a book about my family’s experiences as a protest against “the system.” However I would do it anonymously because it certainly would raise a few eyebrows in my extremely religious community. About your blog…are there enough Disney movies to allow Owen to develop his vocabulary and ability to relate emotionally to others?

    • Writing a book is a narcissistic endeavor, by definition. One hopes of public applause, and as I have written about before, this could be healthy narcissism. On the other hand, when you include family members there is the potential to use them for your own needs, without thinking about their privacy. That is the dilemma of doing a memoir. Yes, there are enough Disney movies, as Disney is a wide ranging company that has bought up many other companies, making them even larger. For example, they have purchased Marvel Comics and Pixar, making these movies in their cannon. Thanks.

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