Life, Animated just premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary tells the story of a nonverbal autistic boy who begins to speak when his family connects to him through his passion for Disney movies and characters. Life, Animated left audiences moved and inspired and won the directing award for U.S. documentaries. The film is a great success, but Owen, who is now 23, is still greatly impaired.
Owen was developing normally--speaking, playing, and socially engaged up until about the age of 3. And then, for some reason, he stopped talking and engaging socially. This is not typical of most nonverbal autistics. This is a form of the disorder called regressive autism, and is much less common--only about 25%-30% of cases. This was not discussed in the movie. It is not clear that the parents or even the doctors and therapists were aware of it. No one raised the simple question: why did this boy, who was developing normally, regress and stop talking? What is he now missing that is required for healthy development? Or, what is present that is interfering with healthy and normal development?
I don’t hear Owen’s parents and therapist asking these questions, and if they are, this was not included in the film. Has anyone measured Owen’s blood looking for toxins? Have they tried to avoid chemical exposures that have already been linked to an increased risk of autism? It appears not.
It also appears that there have not been any attempts made to improve Owen’s diet. Owen uses a cell phone and keeps it on his bedside table at night. Have the parents, doctors, or therapists read any of the peer reviewed and published research on the health effects of wireless radiation and how they match the symptoms of autism?
There is no mention of other autistic children who have improved and recovered using other behavioral therapies, or a wide range of treatments that address diet, environmental factors, inflammation, immune function, and infection. There is is no mention of doctors who have autism prevention programs and have lower rates of autism in their practices. No mention of other countries with lower autism rates, and why that might be.
Many parents feel that if they just had more money and time and access to good doctors, their child could improve. But if you are familiar with autism and other cases of improvement and recovery, by contrast, this story demonstrates that even well intentioned and well-off families can lack awareness and miss opportunities. If anything, they are surrounded and entrapped by professionals they trust too much, but who are not current in their understanding of autism.
In 2011, a Stanford twins study showed that the majority of factors that contributed to autism were environmental and not genetic, as people had previously assumed. And yet, many doctors and therapists are not even aware of this landmark study.
Our health and performance are impacted by our diet and our environment. The good news is that we can change these things, and we can reevaluate our past choices and assumptions which may have, at one time, appeared correct, and align them with what is known to be true today.
Stories, especially Disney stories, are not just for our entertainment. They are written to model paths to overcoming setbacks and creating change in our lives. They can provide insights to help us break free from behaviors and beliefs that are not serving us. Owen’s story does provide some hope and inspiration that autistic children can improve, but it misses the opportunity to enlighten us about the full range of factors that are driving the autism epidemic.
I hope that Owen and all other autistic children can recover and realize their true potential. But in order to make this happen, we cannot hide in a world of fantasy and distraction, or in the comforting routine of doing the same things over and over. When we make enough changes to see our children improve and recover and the autism rate goes down, then and only then can we finally rest and know that we have been heroes and heroines for our children in the real world.
 Life, Animated (Sundance 2016 - Directing Award: U.S. Documentary)
 Regressive Autism
 Herbert, Martha R., and Cindy Sage. "Autism and EMF? Plausibility of a pathophysiological link–Part I."Pathophysiology 20.3 (2013): 191-209.
 Herbert, Martha R., and Cindy Sage. "Autism and EMF? Plausibility of a pathophysiological link Part II."Pathophysiology 20.3 (2013): 211-234.
 The Kids Who Beat Autism - New York Times (July 31, 2014)
 Non-verbal autistic boys speaks 3 days after removing constant wireless exposures
 Hallmayer, Joachim, et al. "Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin pairs with autism." Archives of general psychiatry 68.11 (2011): 1095-1102.
 Top 5 Autism Suspects and How to Avoid Them
 The Emerging Link Between Wireless and Autism