Life Animated Provides An Important Message Regarding All Learners
One of the highlights of our annual state superintendent's conference, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents' Executive Institute, was a session which featured Pulitzer Award-Winning author Ron Suskind who shared the touching story of his amazing son Owen. Suskind recounted the story of Owen as a child and how his personality was seemingly "kidnapped" shortly before his third birthday. After struggling to figure out what had happened to their son who had made typical progress until that point, Suskind and his wife soon learned that Owen was autistic. Owen's story has been well documented in Suskind's book Life Animated. In addition, the book has also been turned into an award-winning documentary (see the trailer below).
However, there is a larger message inherent in the story shared by Suskind. It is a stark reminder that we need to find and value the unique intelligence of every individual. "My son lived in a place where people were typically discarded," he cautioned. Fortunately, Owen had a support network of people in his life that ensured he did not get discarded. For many of the students that walk through the doors of our schools, this may not be the case.
Owen's use of dialogue and song lyrics from Disney movies to communicate his thoughts and feelings is something that a wide audience will connect with. However, whether you have seen a Disney movie or not, there is a connection that Suskind highlighted that all educators need to embrace. "Every kid has their own IEP," he noted. "If you don't give it to them, they'll find it themselves online. This is a big change, but we should shepherd it along and usher it in. Owen did it and he turned his passion into a pathway."
In closing, I have to admit that watching the trailer and hearing Suskind share his family's experience caused me to immediately purchase a copy of the book. The newest edition has a new final chapter titled Sidekicks which was written by Owen. The reference to Sidekicks is one from the Disney movie The Incredibles, but it also takes on a larger meaning in reference to all of the minor characters from the animated Disney movies. The following is my favorite excerpt from Owen's chapter. I encourage you to substitute the word students for sidekicks and think about educators as the ones doing the training.
"They're training sidekicks, the type that prepares you to meet the challenges of the world, by building strength and skill. They train the group - finding hidden strengths in each of them."