Life, Animated Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

These questions are intended for the memoir ''Life, Animated'', but can be adapted for the documentary of the same name. In either case, use these to guide your class through a discussion on the themes and ideas of this true story.

Life, Animated

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism is a nonfiction memoir by journalist Ron Suskind. The story explores his son Owen's experiences with autism, the family's attempts to help Owen learn to communicate again, and the unlikely therapy Owen discovered in Disney movies. This memoir can open up discussions about autism, art, creativity, communication, and family, and these questions can help guide your students through that discussion. Please note that these questions are intended to be used with the memoir, and not the documentary of the same title that it inspired. However, these questions can be easily adapted to that documentary if needed.

Questions about Content

  • How does Life, Animated begin? What does this do to situate us in the lives of the Suskind family? How are we introduced to Owen? What is his early childhood like?
  • What are the signs that something about Owen is not developing as expected? How does Owen seem to lose all sense of communication? What do you think this would be like, as a parent? How does the memoir explain this? How do Ron and Cornelia each react? What does this reveal to us about their personalities?
  • How do doctors assess Owen's situation? What do these medical terms mean to his family? How does this relate to their real feelings and expectations as parents, and the practical dimensions of their lives? How/why do they start to search for their own solutions?
  • What are the first signs that Owen is communicating using Disney movies as a point of reference? What did you think when you first read this? How long of a process was this? What role did routine and repetition play in establishing even the most basic baseline for Owen to start re-learning communication skills?
  • How do fictional characters become a way for Owen to interact with/understand the world? How does his family accommodate this? Which characters is Owen most drawn to? Why sidekicks? How are these characters in particular able to connect with Owen? How does the book explain this?
  • How does Owen's affinity for Disney movies impact his family, and their dynamics? Where do we see this in the book? Why do the adults have to learn how to play? How does Owen control this process?
  • How does Owen's relationship with movies mature as his social skills mature? How is this treated throughout his high school years? How does it carry him into adulthood, and the end of the book?

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