Autism Spectrum Australia

8 things the movie "LIFE, Animated" teaches you about the strength-based interest approach

  • Posted: Tue, 27/09/2016 - 2:09pm

An exciting new movie, LIFE, Animated, hits selected cinemas in Australia this September, telling the story of Owen Suskind; a young man on the autism spectrum whose special interests become a means to communicate with those around him.

Following the journey of Owen as he transitions from early childhood to adulthood, the documentary explores some interesting topics around autism, and what it can be like to grow up on the spectrum.

Dr Tom Tutton, from Autism Spectrum Australia said, “For a long time the traditional approach to autism has been deficit-based and one of low expectations, starting at diagnosis. This movie really captures the essence of supporting people on the autism spectrum through their strengths and interests.”

“It is great to see how the movie illustrates using Owen’s interest in Disney to promote a wide range of skills, opportunities and quality of life.”

Craig Smith works at Aspect Hunter School, where they use special interests in the classroom setting every day.

“At Aspect Hunter School, we utilise the special interests of our students, (such as Minecraft, Pixar or Pokemon) for instruction, content adaptation, and in therapy skills. We use the language, the imagery and the characters from our students’ special interests in a wide range of activities. It offers a genuine differentiation of teaching, fitting in with the Aspect Comprehensive Approach to Education (ACAE) and really engages our students.” said Craig.

Here are Craig and Tom’s thoughts on how LIFE, Animated demonstrates the effectiveness of a strengths-based interest approach:


  1. Motivation; finding and using a special interest can provide focus, engagement and encouragement for someone on the spectrum.
  2. Education; using a special interest can help with learning, for example in the movie, Owen learns to read via movie credits.
  3. Communication; for Owen, Disney provides a shared language and a tool for communication.
  4. Confidence; knowledge within a special interest can build confidence and allow a sense of mastery and status (such as the leader of a Disney club for Owen).
  5. Familiarity; when times are challenging and unfamiliar, such as moving into a new house, a special interest is stable and familiar and can be a calming influence.
  6. Friendships; finding others with the same special interest enables social connections, rapport-building and relationships.
  7. Opportunities; a special interest can be utilised in employment, as it does for Owen when he works in the cinema.
  8. Age-appropriate interests; embracing and encouraging any special interest, whether it is from childhood or adulthood can lead to positive outcomes.


“We encourage all parents, teachers and other support staff to embrace any special interest wholeheartedly and this movie illustrates and supports this beautifully.” said Craig and Tom.


Dr Tom Tutton is the National Manager for Aspect Practice & clinical lead on Positive Behaviour Support for Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).

Craig Smith is an Education Coordinator at Aspect Hunter School, and an Aspect Practice Specialist. You can listen to Craig’s podcast, Autism Pedagogy on iTunes.

LIFE, Animated opens in Australian cinemas on 29th September 2016.

For cinema locations and session times, visit:

To request a local cinema screening, please visit:



8 things the movie "LIFE, Animated" teaches you about the strength-based interest approach