Owen Suskind was a thriving, typically developing 3-year-old boy — until suddenly he wasn’t.

“He loses speech, he loses motor function, he can’t meet your gaze. He just kind of vanished,” Owen’s father, Ron Suskind said. “It was like we were looking for clues to a kidnapping.”

But Owen wasn’t kidnapped. He was diagnosed with autism, and doctors told his parents that he may never speak again.

ADEC is bringing Owen’s story – the story of life with autism and how a family adjusts – to the big screen on January 10 at Concord High School.

“Life, Animated” is an award-winning documentary about Owen Suskind and how he learned to re-connect with the world around him using Disney animated movies.

The film has been picking up awards at film festivals across the country, and is even on the short list to win the 2017 Academy Award for best feature documentary.

It’s a beautiful film that weaves classic Disney sequences with footage from Owen’s own life, and it’s created by Academy-Award winning director Roger Ross Williams. But that’s not why ADEC wanted to bring “Life, Animated” to our community.

“Life, Animated” delivers a message that will resonate with many of the families served by ADEC. The film explores many topics that ADEC families know all too well.

Like how Owen’s parents are filled with both excitement and fear when Owen prepares to move into an apartment in a supported living community.

Or when Owen’s brother grapples with how he will need to care for Owen after their parents are gone.

And Owen himself deals with social situations he won’t find in Disney animated films — like adult relationships and the devastating breakups that can follow.

Even those with no experience with autism or disability will find the film moving and uplifting. Any Disney fan will be touched by how powerful and life-changing the classic films and characters can be.

Several years after Owen’s diagnosis, he begins quoting fragments of Disney movies (specifically, he repeats the line “just your voice,” as read by Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”). His doctor wrote it off at first as echolalia, explaining Owen was merely mimicking what he heard in the films that he had watched countless times.

But Owen’s dad refused to believe his son’s words were meaningless and soon discovered that the Disney quotes were Owen’s language. Ron used a puppet from the movie Aladdin and was suddenly able to have his first conversation with his son in many years.

To Owen, Disney movies were a lens to make sense of the world. The characters — whose animated expressions are much easier to read than the faces of real-life people — taught Owen about life and how to navigate it.

Join ADEC at 7 p.m. January 10 in the Beickman Performing Arts Center for the free screening. No tickets or reservations are required. For more information, contact Michelle Sokol at [email protected] or 574-848-2457.