Welcome to Life, Animated

Our son Owen, like so many with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), has an ‘affinity’—in his case, a deep connection to the Disney movies he’s watched countless times to make sense of an often-bewildering world. We wrote about Owen in Life, Animated, and received scores of letters describing affinities from anime to Minecraft to maps. That’s why we started this site: to share Owen’s story and to create a platform (the Autism Affinities Project) for others to share stories of their own.

We hope you'll join us in gathering and exploring the breathtaking range of expression — impeccable renderings of movie scenes, intricate art, musical performances, stirring videos, and sheer feats of recall — that affinities inspire. Here we make them visible to an appreciate public.

Click to learn more about Affinity Therapy and the new Affinity Foundation.

Autism Affinities Project – Josh

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Joshʼs affinity for dogs started over a year ago. He always wants to go to the dog park or, at least, visit the three neighborhood dogs that we know. He loves to talk about dogs, pet them, and log “dog meets.” On our summer vacation, for example, he logged in a notebook every dog he met. I personally love his latest affinity because we not only have a dog, but I grew up with dogs. When I was his age, I loved dogs just like my son.

Autism Affinities Project – Yonatan

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Yonatan came into a recent session with Tomi (his teacher) babbling a lot. He was very hyper (he is also diagnosed with severe ADHD). Among the things he was babbling were a few syllables he repeated a lot: : Ata-y, ata-y, he said again and again.

“We know you are trying to say something but we can’t understand,” both Tomi and I said to him.

Then we started writing, and Yonatan wrote a few letters that were not coherent to us. And then he wrote in Hebrew the letters that make up the same strange combination: Ata-y.

Autism Affinities Project – Reid “Music and Movies” Moriarty

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Reid has an affinity for music, entertainers, and performing. As a toddler, he memorized more than 200 track numbers and titles on favorite CD recordings and from “My First Hymnal.” It is obvious how deeply he feels music—both by how he wanders to wherever it is played and dances with abandon when he arrives. Songs in a minor key still bring him to tears. Gifted with perfect pitch, Reid helped select our first piano, nonverbally. The salesman said, “you need to get this one or he won’t abide it being played.”

Autism Affinities Project – Hannah

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“She used to draw (replicate) cartoon characters perfectly but now spends most of her time on Minecraft. She doesn’t start with a drawing. She actually visualizes a pattern on a grid and can superimpose it from her mind onto the computer screen and fill in the grid accordingly. It’s quite a gift.”

Autism Affinities Project – Quentin

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Throughout the week, the logo-naming increased. He found them throughout my parents’ home, especially on their widescreen TV. He also started to spout logo names sporadically, without even seeing them. “Clorox,” he would say to me, with perfect eye contact, waiting for a response. “Clorox,” I would say. He would counter with, “Pringles,” again waiting for my response. “Pringles,” I would say. For Quentin, this is typical back-and-forth conversation. We could go several rounds of brand names before he got tired or distracted.

Autism Affinities Poll

In April, the New York Times reported that researchers from MIT, Yale, and Cambridge, inspired by Life, Animated, are teaming up to study the effectiveness of structuring therapy around a child’s affinity. This was thrilling news, and research we will watch closely. But (as anyone who has ever suffered from a chronic condition knows well) […]

Autism Affinities Project – Gabriel

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Since Frankenweenie, what I’ve called ‘film therapy’ has infiltrated every part of our lives – schooldays, weekends, evenings, car trips, holidays, meals, bath-time, swimming sessions and more. I started simply by asking 4 cinemas if they’d donate old film posters. 3 obliged and I got them laminated. We began by poring over them like treasure maps, revelling in Gabriel’s eye for detail (he’d spend minutes focusing on details that had passed me by) and with me animatedly commentating. Gabriel couldn’t talk, but his eyes could, and they lit up as I exclaimed – ‘Oooo, it’s a scary bat monster!’, or ‘Fish! Just keep swimming, Dory!’, or ‘Look out! Shaaaarrk!’, or ‘Bird! It’s a blue bird, Gabriel!’

Autism Affinities Project – Trevor

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“There were these games he liked to play with hockey cards, like War: Who has the tallest player? Who has the player with the most goals?

Trevor said, ‘Quiz me on these.’ The cards we’d bought that day were different in that there weren’t any stats on them. There was an action photo on the front, and on the back they had a description of the game where that photo had been taken. And it said, you know, ‘This goalie made 37 saves in a 5-1 win on such and such date,’ and they were from the previous season.

I said, ‘I can’t, there are no stats.’

He insisted, ‘Quiz me on these! Just don’t tell me the date and the score.’ So I start quizzing him, and he responds ’5-2, December 12th!’ I go through this whole pack, and there were 40 or 50 cards, and he got all but one of them right. I just thought to check the one he got wrong, and, of course, the card was wrong.”

Autism Affinities Project – Art by Dylan

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Dylan is a young artist with autism whose vivid paintings caught our eye after an exchange on Twitter. We especially can’t stop staring at his sheep, who looks like Kandinsky’s ‘Color Study – Squares and Concentric Circles (1913)‘ engaged in some rapid mitosis and grew legs. Below, Dylan’s mother Shara was kind enough to share his story […]

Autism Affinities Project – Tyler Doi and Woodstock Chimes

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In this video, see what happens when Tyler steps outside of his room, with its vast collection of chimes, and into the headquarters of Woodstock Chimes, whose collection is even vaster. (Woodstock, we learned, is the largest manufacturer of wind chimes in the world.) I don’t want to reveal too much, but there’s even a “Name That Chime” challenge between Tyler and Woodstock’s leader, the affable Garry Kvistad.

Reflecting on Tyler’s deep affection for the slight shifts in tone between each chime, Garry notes: “He can hear more than what most people can hear in a sound, because he’s inside of it.”