About a week ago, my boyfriend came and threw The New York Times Magazine at me (after already finishing the crossword, naturally). “There’s something in here you should read,” he said.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“This autistic kid who came out of his shell because of Disney,” Marcus replied.
“I already read that book,” I said.
Marcus looked confused. “What? It’s not a book yet.”
Now I was confused. “What? Yes it is. It’s about this guy in the Pacific Northwest who has a kid who’s really autistic and it breaks up his marriage but he and his ex-wife and his new fiancée all move to central Florida when they find out how much Walt Disney World brings his the kid out of his shell. They take him all the time because he’s more communicative there. The kid becomes obsessed with Snow White and rides the Snow White ride a lot. Before they shut it down, obviously.”
“This is different,” Marcus said. “This is about a Wall Street Journal reporter who has a kid with severe autism who watches a lot of Disney movies and repeats lines from them. But, um, kind of the same idea as your thing.”
The article Marcus was talking about was an excerpt from Ron Suskind’s upcoming book, “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism,” which will be published April 1. Of course I read the NYT Magazine excerpt and found it touching, but the concept of reaching autistic kids through Disney was not new to me.
About a year ago, my mother, of all people, emailed me to say I should download a book on my Kindle. The book, “3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White,” by Ron Miles, was new and free on Amazon at the time and I downloaded it right away, considering it was mom recommending it — she’s pretty wary of my Disney obsession and I’m all like, “If you didn’t want to raise someone obsessed with Disney World, then why did you take me every other year of my life until high school?!” But I digress.
I’ve read a number of self-published-type “my experience with Disney” books that I’ve downloaded for cheap or free from Amazon, some that I’ve reviewed and some that I’ve meant to get around to reviewing. Some are pretty good, some are rather awful, many are just OK. (I guess that explains why I haven’t reviewed a lot of them … I don’t want to spend a lot of time summoning middle-of-the-road phrases to describe a wholly mediocre book-reading experience.)
“3500” was different, though, in that I read it in a day — consumed it might be a better way to say it. Sure, it wasn’t overly long, but it was completely engrossing. It didn’t get as technical and background-laden as Suskind’s excerpt did, but Miles’ prose was far from slouchy or amateurish. It felt like I was reading correspondence from a longtime friend; I had this warm feeling the whole time I was engrossed in the text that I never really felt when I was reading Suskind’s excerpt.
I already pretty much summed up “3500” in my first paragraphs, and I’m hesitant to say any more about the plot because I really think any Disney fan or anyone curious about autism should acquire this book and read it. But basically, Miles’ son, Benjamin, has severe autism, but basically becomes a different, more communicative kid when his parents take him to Disney World. While the difficulty of dealing with Ben’s diagnosis split up his parents’ marriage, they remain completely amicable and wholly devoted to Ben, uprooting their separate lives with new partners so they can all move across the country to Orlando to take Ben to WDW all the time.
Despite not really being a “Disney person” before Ben’s diagnosis and reaction to the parks, Miles writes with reverence and accuracy about the parks, displaying the kind of knowledge and favoritism shared among all the adult WDW fanatics who spend their adult lives blogging and tweeting about their corner of the world. While explaining details about the parks and the precise difficulties of raising an autistic child, the book focuses on Ben’s obsession with Snow White and the Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction at the Magic Kingdom, which is sadly no more. The end of the book details the demise of the attraction but how Disney went out of the way to recognize Ben during the attraction’s final hours. The book includes social media reactions about Ben during the last hours of the ride, including some Disney community regulars — people I follow on Twitter — so it was no surprise I felt so connected to the end of the book and that I got super emotional whilst reading.
While it’s no longer free on Amazon, the Kindle edition is a mere $2.99, and I can’t give it a higher recommendation.