Speaking to the World
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Autism Advocate, Star of Life Animated
Walter Suskind is a star of the 2017 Academy Award-nominated documentary, Life, Animated, "a profound...investigation of what it means to be human" (Vanity Fair) — which follows the twenty-year journey of his family with autism. Read More >
He is also the founder of SibStrong, a national organization that helps siblings join together to support their differently-abled brothers and sisters. The movie, based the 2014 bestselling book by his father, Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Suskind, details how Walter and his younger brother with autism, Owen, formed an extraordinary rapport and mutual support system across two decades.
Owen, who lost speech with autism’s onset at age three, silently memorized fifty Disney movies – throw him a line, he’ll throw you back the next one – and the family learned to communicate with him in Disney dialogue. Eventually, he regained speech, learned to read by reading credits, and invented his own emotional language of lyrics and lines from Disney. It was language in which Walter was fluent.
A class president and football team captain, he learned to play a wide array of characters to connect with his little brother and guide him into the wider world. Both book and movie evolve into a story of two brothers, who, by the end, are increasingly moving forward together, as they will in their real lives.
As Ron and his wife, Cornelia, often said, “Walter is Owen’s best therapist.” Walter’s humble response: “Owen is my best teacher.” In fact, they taught each other, with Owen’s unadorned honesty showing Walter what’s important in this life, while Walter taught Owen everything from tying a tie to asking a girl on a date, to how to meet the world with a smile. Now, Walter is teaching, leading and collaborating with other siblings as they work to bring siblings together as allies and advocates for their brothers and sisters. Read Less ^
In a multimedia show, drawing from the hit movie, Life, Animated, Walter Suskind tells a story of lessons learned as the sibling of a person with autism. He talks about how a brother like Owen has shaped him into the man he is, and provides stirring insights into what characterizes the life of a sibling of someone with autism. These siblings, with an estimated population of more than 10 million in the U.S., are central actors in a many decade life-drama: they both shape, and are shaped by, the affected individual, as the neurotypical who lives the most similar life, in the same cultural present-tense and within the same family. No one, including the parents, often knows the person on the spectrum with the intimacy and kinship to match the sibling. Research and activism, by, for and about siblings, is becoming a national focus -- a movement Walter is helping to lead. With a long way yet to go, walking by Owen's side on the path of life, he will speak about his work and plans to provide support for other siblings and the power and potential that bringing siblings together holds for the entire autism community.
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