'Life, Animated' Parents Describe How Movies Helped Son with Autism

Ron and Cornelia Suskind share journey with their son, Owen, who was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with regressive autism.
7:37 | 12/27/16

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Transcript for 'Life, Animated' Parents Describe How Movies Helped Son with Autism
Now the story of two parents who thought they had lost their son to autism. They got him out of his shell of silence, they say, through the magic of movies. Disney movies, to be specific. Disney, of course, is the parent cough ABC news. ABC's Deborah Roberts has more. I'm peter pan! I'm captain hook, you're peter pan, okay. Reporter: Precious home video. Make-believe between a 2-year-old boy and his dad. But this moment in time would later mean so much more. Then we just watched it over and over. Like, how could this be possible? Here he is a few months ago. Reporter: Not long after filming this scene in 1993, Owen suskine's world halted. He stopped talking, showing affection, and gaining in the world around him. His parents Ron and Cornelia soon got a shattering diagnosis. Regressive autism. Must have been devastating. We just froze. You know, and the doctors started to explain, okay, this is going to change your life. He may never get his speech back. Many of the kids don't. Reporter: Ron, an award-winning "Wall Street journal" reporter, gifted with words. But now his own son has none. Just started to vanish. He couldn't look at you. Walked around like someone with their eyes closed. 4-year-old Owen's language jibber require. Frustration growing. Jusuvus, Cornelia thought he wanted more juice, he knocked the cup over. Reporter: For some a particularly topic of interest, "Star trek," maps. For Owen, Disney movies, he was fixated on a scene in "The little mermaid." He rewinds it the second time, the third time. Cornelia goes, it's not juice. It won't cost much, just your voice! I grab Owen and say, just your voice! He looks at me for the first time in a year and says, "Jules a vus." Pandemonium broke out in the bedroom. Reporter: Now Owen and his family are sharing the heartwarming journey in a new documentary "Life, animated." I see Owen on the bed. I see yaga the puppet. Yago is the evil sidekick to the villain jaffar from "Aladdin." I grab the puppet. I pull it up to my elbow. I say, Owen, Owen, how does it feel to be you? And I said, not good, because I don't have any friends. And then we talk. It's the first conversation we've ever had. Reporter: A remarkable discovery. Owen had memorized every line from every Disney movie. And the family now realized by speaking in those characters' voices, they could communicate with their son. The suskinds would spend several years immersing themselves in Owen's world. We were living a kind of double life. I'm interviewing presidents. And at night we're animated characters. What did you feel when you were watching those movies? Felt like I was in a better safe place. The world was so noisy coming at him, overwhelming him. As Cornelia said, the movies were the one thing that didn't change. One thing that can happen with Disney movies is children will learn parts of the script -- Reporter: Dr. Landa, who spent 20 years working with children with autism, says it's important to pay close attention to what they're trying to express. They can't put together the words from scratch. To express their idea. So they're borrowing from the movie. Reporter: Beyond the storylines, Owen feels a kinship with certain characters. And it wasn't just the movies, it was the sidekicks? The sidekicks, yeah. What is it about the sidekicks, Owen? They are so fun-loving, wacky, entertaining. And also help the heroes fulfill their destiny. Hakuna patada, it means no worries. Do most people think the sidekicks are important? No. The question is, who are you? Did you feel a little like a sidekick yourself? I sure did. Reporter: In fact, he compares people in his life to sidekicks from Disney movies. That love business is a powerful thing. Reporter: Dad Merlin from "The sword in the stone." Off to the cupboard with you now, chip. Reporter: Mom, Mrs. Potts, from "Beauty and the beast." What sidekick does Deborah remind you of? I say Rosie the spider from "A bug's life." Tell Deborah wa Rosie the spider's like. Fun and kind and caring. Reporter: Owen is one of many with autism who are drawn to Disney stories. What's his name? Reporter: Colleen says her 22-year-old son Jonathan finds great comfort in the movies. Especially "Toy story." His mood changes. Like if it comes on, he'll just stop and watch it and calm down. He has an adult costume of buzz lightyear. And he does sometimes sleep in it. May I have your attention, please. Reporter: For Owen, animated movies have opened a window into friendships. He started a Disney club at his school. We watch parts of Disney animated films and discuss them and see what they're really about in our lives. They're speaking the language of Disney to each other. It's like magic. Reporter: Embracing their son's complex world has led Ron and Cornelia to see life differently. There are many affinities. The kids are hey harry potter kids, star war kids. They use these passions as codebreakers to crack the codes of themselves, their place in the world action their identity. Reporter: A lesson for parents of children with autism who worry their kids are too obsessed with certain subjects. It can be a good thing, says Dr. La Landa. If you take those interests but just wiggle a little further away from them, slowly but surely, you can bring in new experiences for children. Reporter: One of those new experiences, real-life interaction with an animated character. This Broadway performance of "Aladdin" was held specifically for people with autism. Jonathan and his mom were eager to attend. Usually when I go someplace, I'm all stressed out because Jonathan is sometimes unpredictable with his behavior. Here, I'm not worried at all. Reporter: Owen's love for "Aladdin" was so infectious he won the heart of Jonathan Freeman, the voice of jaffar in the film, who now plays him on Broadway. The idea has value. ♪ Reporter: Owen's also made other well-known friends. At the New York premiere of "Life, animated," he joined his family in a sing-along with award-winning composer Alan Mankin, who wrote so many of Owen's favorite tunes. Ng on his own. Unlike peter pan, he's happily growing up. He changed. But he didn't become less. We just needed to learn who he was. ♪ Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Deborah Roberts in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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