Issues: The Animation Spectrum

The Animation Spectrum:
Are animation, autism, and Asperger’s related?

Thad Komorowski

No one has ever made a study of a direct link between autism and Asperger’s and a compassionate interest (never mind career) in animation. In light of increasing evidence, however, one is probably in order.

Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has written a book entitled Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. He writes at length about his autistic son, Owen, and how he was not only educated, but also more or less rescued by the animated features of the Disney Studio.

In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, he talked about using a puppet of Iago, the parrot from Aladdin, to break the ice with Ron.

“I put the puppet on… and say in Iago’s voice: ‘Owen, how does it feel to be you?’ Owen turns to the puppet, like he’s bumping into an old friend, and says, ‘Not good, I have no friends. I can’t understand what people say, and I’m lonely.’ That was our first real conversation.”

It is a success story, for Owen Suskind has not only connected with his family, but he’s now connecting with other people through a Disney Club he’s formed at college.

Suskind’s book might be the only case study of an autism-animation connection at the present, as most health studies are uncovering how autism and Asperger’s are related to interest in the performing arts in general.

The See Amazing in All Children initiative, a recent partnership between Sesame Workshop and Exceptional Minds, a digital arts academy for young adults with autism, suggests there is awareness that those diagnosed need assistance and acceptance with pursuing their passion. The press release states it’s “the first vocational school of its kind with a working studio of young professionals with autism who are preparing for lifelong careers in digital animation, graphics and post-production.”

There’s also the possibility that autism and Asperger’s have already been widely accepted in the animation industry—albeit, unknowingly.

Robertryan Cory, a character designer at Disney Television Animation, said he’s always been interested in the topic and even self-analysis.

“I was never diagnosed but I’ve noticed a ton of similarities,” Cory said. “Didn’t speak until 5, hated the feeling of water, don’t know or understand cursive writing [and] completely obsessed and detail oriented to the point of distraction.”

Cory may be forthcoming with sharing his experiences—he’s currently beginning work on his first book—yet he’s uncertain his fellow animation brethren would be as candid. Which is all the more reason a serious, informed look at the topic would be invaluable.

“I know a lot of my friends have problems but I’m not sure where they lay on the spectrum, [or] whether anyone has been properly diagnosed,” he said. “Or whether they’d like to be called out on their weird behavior.”