In the New York Times Magazine Ron Suskind tells the story of how he learned to communicate with his son with the aid of Disney movies:
When Owen was 3, his comprehension of spoken words collapsed. That’s clear from every test. But now it seems that as he watched each Disney movie again and again, he was collecting and logging sounds and rhythms, multitrack. Speech, of course, has its own subtle musicality; most of us, focusing on the words and their meanings, don’t hear it. But that’s all he heard for years, words as intonation and cadence, their meanings inscrutable. It was like someone memorizing an Akira Kurosawa movie without knowing Japanese. Then it seems he was slowly learning Japanese — or, rather, spoken English — by using the exaggerated facial expressions of the animated characters, the situations they were in, the way they interacted to help define all those mysterious sounds. That’s what we start to assume; after all, that’s the way babies learn to speak. But this is slightly different because of the way he committed these vast swaths of source material, dozens of Disney movies, to memory. These are stored sounds wecan now help him contextualize, with jumping, twirling, sweating, joyous expression...
Taking on the personality of Iago, the parrot from Alladin, he was able to talk to Owen about how he felt:
Owen’s sitting on his bed, flipping through a Disney book; he can’t read, of course, but he likes to look at the pictures. The mission is to reach around the banister into his closet and grab his puppet of Iago, the parrot from “Aladdin” and one of his favorite characters. He has been doing lots of Iago echolalia, easy to identify because the character is voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, who talks like a busted Cuisinart. Once Iago’s in hand, I gently pull the bedspread from the foot of Owen’s bed onto the floor. He doesn’t look up. It takes four minutes for Iago and me to make it safely under the bedspread.
Now crawl, snail-slow, along the side of the bed to its midpoint. Fine.
I freeze here for a minute, trying to figure out my opening line; four or five sentences dance about, auditioning.Then, a thought: Be Iago. What would Iago say? I push the puppet up from the covers. “So, Owen, how ya doin’?” I say, doing my best Gilbert Gottfried. “I mean, how does it feel to be you?!” I can see him turn toward Iago. It’s as if he is bumping into an old friend. “I’m not happy. I don’t have friends. I can’t understand what people say.” I have not heard this voice, natural and easy, with the traditional rhythm of common speech, since he was 2. I’m talking to my son for the first time in five years.