Courtesy Suskind Family(NEW YORK) -- Owen Suskind was a talkative and lively child until the age of 3, when all that he had learned -- speaking, eating and walking -- began to slip away from him and he retreated into the lonely world of autism.
Over time, Owen became lost in a library of animated Disney movies, rewinding and replaying them, and his parents, journalists Ron and Cornelia Suskind, worried about their son being sucked into the social isolation of the television.
"They vanish in front of you," Owen's father, Pulitzer-winning journalist Ron Suskind told ABC News, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company.
But it was the Disney characters, whose lines and songs Owen could repeat back with ease, that ultimately gave his parents the entryway to his hidden thoughts and emotions and brought him back into the world, he said.
Ron Suskind says that he and his wife were convinced it wasn't "mimicry," because "the movements, the tone, the emotions seem utterly authentic, like method acting."
Now, Suskind writes about his 20-year journey raising Owen in a March 9 New York Times Magazine article, "Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney." The piece is part of a larger book on the so-called "Disney therapy" that the author writes about in his 2014 book, Life Animated.
It was the "sidekick" characters, in particular, that touched an emotional spot in Owen and allowed him to express himself. And even though he couldn't write his name legibly, Owen could flawlessly draw characters like the Mad Hatter and Jiminy Cricket.
"It's often the supporting players in Disney fables who are more varied and vivid," Suskind writes. "Even in the earliest Disney movies, the first sidekicks -- Goofy, Pluto and then Donald Duck -- often carried confusions, frailties, foolishness, pride, vanity and hard-won, often reluctantly learned, insights. The spectrum of complex human emotions is housed with the sidekicks."
When Owen was about 6, Suskind described how he grabbed a puppet of Iago, the parrot from Aladdin, to have one of the first real conversations with his son: "So, Owen, how ya doin'?"
"I am not happy," Owen replied. "I don't have friends. I can't understand what people say."
Using the Disney characters to reach out to their son was like "reversing the telescope," Suskind said. "We really need to embrace the affinity and go the other direction. Let me in with a kind of delicacy."
"What is the subtle substructure of the affinity so I can enter it and get in there and take the therapy to start to reveal to me some maps and navigation to look in their underground cabin?" he said. "I can help them rebuild it and they can advance into the world of sunlight."
Autism affects an estimated 1 in 88 children, about 1 percent of the population ages 3 to 17, according to the Autism Society. Between 1 to 1.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder, one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities.
mercedes rancaño/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With so many dogs occupying a major status in families these days, more attention is being paid to what goes in Fido's bowl. And increasingly, pet owners are modeling their pooch's diet after their own.
Nutritionist and chef Gayle Pruitt is a two-time author of books on preparing joint meals for pets and humans. Her latest cookbook, Dog-Gone Good Cuisine: More Healthy, Fast, and Easy Recipes for You and Your Pooch, posits that not only is it time- and money-saving to feed a dog the same dinner as yourself but that it's healthier for the animal, too.
"Fresh human grade food for dogs??? What a concept! Saves money in the long run," Pruitt writes on her Facebook page, adding "with less large vet bills."
The tome offers recipes for 100 different human-dog meals, including spinach kale lasagna, curried beef sliders and salmon Florentine.
But Dr. Amy Farcas, a small animal clinical nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, counsels that altering a dog's diet to reflect what a human feels like eating on any given night could be problematic.
"The nutrient requirements of dogs are somewhat complicated -- there are approximately 40 different essential nutrients -- and are different than human nutrient requirements," said Farcas. "When pets are fed the same meals that their owners eat, the result is usually -- every time I’ve evaluated diets like this -- lacking in essential nutrients for dogs. The same is true for most recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs available to pet owners."
Farcas also cited a recent study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association of 200 home-prepared diet recipes for dogs from the Internet, pet care books, etc.
"In this study, 95 percent of recipes evaluated were deficient in at least one essential nutrient," she said. "Rotation among ingredients and recipes is unlikely to correct these deficiencies because most of the foods used in home-prepared diets for dogs have similar nutritional profiles and therefore similar deficiencies."
Another new entrant onto the pet food market may provide a more consistent alternative.
Innova Nature's Table is a new line of "grain-free, natural" dry pet food and treat recipes sourcing lean proteins, such as farm-raised turkey, cold water salmon, wild herring or ranch-raised bison, and combining them with fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots, and carbohydrates such as lentils and peas.
"We want consumers to feel good about the food they feed their pets,” said Kari Liu, senior scientist in formulation and diet design, in a statement. “Each ingredient found in Nature’s Table recipes serves a specific purpose, like high-quality animal proteins for lean muscle mass, omega fatty acids for a shiny coat, healthy carbohydrates like lentils and peas for sustained energy, and nourishing antioxidants like vitamin E to help promote a healthy immune system.”
While Farcas argued that there is no research suggesting that grain-free diets are superior or inferior to those that include grain, she did state that lean cuts of meat from any source of protein are always preferable. Alternative proteins, such as bison, are typically chosen to prevent and combat adverse food responses in dogs.
But what if you are living a meat-free lifestyle and want the same for your pet? In that case, you will need to focus your search. But vegan dog bakeries do exist.
Boston Baked Bonz offers organic and animal-free cookies and treats for man's best friend. The handmade goods range from peanut butter crunchies to wheat-free cranberry clove muffins to quinoa cookies and gingerbread snaps. And you don't have to live in Beantown to let Fido indulge. Orders are available online too.
Farcas told ABC News that vegan treats are fine for dogs.
"Use of vegan food items as treats is acceptable for most dogs," she said. "Like any other treats, these should be given in moderation, with treats not exceeding 10 percent of a pet’s total calorie intake."
Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- Researchers have made great strides in early detection and prevention for cervical cancer, the third-most common cancer in women, including the HPV vaccine. But with all the progress, there are still thousands of women with advanced disease, and the five-year survival rate for late-stage cervical cancer is 15 percent. That number may now climb dramatically, if the results of a trial for Erlotinib, now in its second phase, proves typical.
The standard care for advanced cervical cancer is chemo-radiation and Cisplatin, a nonspecific drug. Erlotinib, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitor, is a type of biologic medication targeting growth receptors in the cancerous cells -- they can’t grow and cancer recedes.
For the study, which is published in the journal Cancer, Brazilian researchers at the Instituto de Cancer in Rio de Janeiro conducted a small trial in 36 women with Stage II and III cervical cancer (which now has a survival rate of 40 percent). After 77 weeks of treatment, all but two patients saw a complete disappearance of the cancer. At two and three years out, 92 percent and 80 percent of women survived, respectively.
Side effects of Erlotinib were generally manageable with patients experiencing mostly rashes and diarrhea.
According to the study authors, this is the first study to show that a target agent has promising activity against locally advanced cervical cancer. Still, more research is needed as the data presented in the trial is only preliminary.
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Newlyweds looking to build a lasting foundation, take note: A new survey reveals that the secret to a happy marriage is not just one thing, but possibly six.
After interviewing 10,000 couples in 110 countries around the world, bestselling author of Happy Wives Club Fawn Weaver has identified six practices that happy partners have in common. Some you might not expect.
6. Put Marriage Before Children "This is controversial but it was a common denominator among these couples," said Weaver. "According to them, it was just common sense," adding that as children leave for college and to begin a family of their own, parents risk being left with an emptied nest akin to "an overdrawn bank account."
5. If the Bond is Solid, Sex will Follow According to Weaver, the topic of sex only came up once in passing during her myriad interviews with international couples. "We place a lot of stock in this one thing but these couples made it clear if you take care of the relationship, this will take care of itself," she said.
4. Spirituality Can Be a Stabilizer While, "the couples may not have all agreed on who or what they believe God to be, all believed in a higher power," said Weaver. "They had a healthy fear of disappointing that higher power in relation to their spouses." Similarly, a 2001 report in the Journal of Family Psychology found that in 120 couples studied, celebrating religious holidays together had helped to cement and re-establish their beliefs over the years and further bonded their marriages.
3. Rituals Enhance Romance From coffee together in the morning to a cocktail every night before dinner, each of the couples interviewed maintained a ritual for decades. "[This is] something that is just for the two of them and they maintain it every day," said Weaver.
2. Divorce Is Not an Option Or, as Weaver puts it, "there was no Plan B. Each couple decided at the outset that they would subtract divorce from the equation," she said. "This led to a much greater level of patience with each other."
1. Aretha Had it Right The number one answer to a happy marriage, according to Weaver's survey, is "mutual respect," she said. Sometimes that respect can even extend to the need to sleep in separate beds.
iStock/Thinkstock(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- A Maltese terrier named Charlie went on an epic bender to save his life after accidentally licking antifreeze off the floor of his owner’s garage.
Owner JacintaRosewarne noticed her dog was acting strange and rushed the canine to the nearby Animal Accident & Emergency hospital in Melbourne, Australia, where he was diagnosed with Ethylene Glycol poisoning.
An overdose of Ethylene Glycol only has one cure — lots of booze.
Alcohol can alter the chemicals in Ethylene Glycol, rendering them mostly harmless.
Vets pumped vodka straight into the doggie’s stomach in multiple doses to the point where Charlie was wobbling about like a canine remake of The Lost Weekend. The drunken spell lasted about 48 hours.
“He was stumbling around, I’d go to pat him and he’d push me away like a normal drunk person, he was vomiting a little, whining like a drunk,” Rosewarne told The Herald Sun. “I thought it was hilarious … It was distressing but funny at the same time.”
Charlie’s now in good health — though his head might be pounding.
“The good news is that Charlie has recovered and is not showing signs of kidney failure,” vets wrote on the hospital’s blog. “Charlie went home this morning, still nursing a hangover.”
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When you gotta go, you gotta go. The question, sometimes, is where?
Now a few new apps are offering to streamline your search for a nearby restroom.
Flushd, currently available for the iPhone and iPad, allows users to filter local restroom options on a map, according to distance and amenities, including changing tables or attendants. It even includes in-stall reading material and can track your bathroom habits.
"Our goal is to take a conversation that is happening on the fringes and bring it mainstream," said James Edwards, CEO of AhhhMedia, LLC, in a statement. "Can a funny and novel approach to sanitation issues change the world one flush at a time? We think so."
What if you happen to be traveling somewhere slightly off the grid? In that case, try downloading Airpnp.co. The name bears a resemblance to a certain other share-economy site, but instead of renting a bed it offers users the chance to reserve a seat in a private homeowner's toilet for a small price.
According to its website, the founders of Airpnp were both born and raised New Orleans, where they attended Mardi Gras each year and struggled to find an available lavatory.
"Airpnp gives residences and businesses the opportunity to rent out their bathrooms to people in their immediate location who need to use it," the site reads, adding, "Users are able to rate their experience afterwards to others can see how each restroom stacks up."
But if these entrants into the water closet category don't inspire confidence, you can always go with an established brand: Charmin toilet paper also has a bathroom-tracking app called Sit or Squat that searches out the nearest commode and allows users to leave their critique afterward.
"I hate being surprised, especially when it's a stinky and gross bathroom," writes one reviewer of the app, saying it "gives me a heads up on the nearest restrooms and whether or not they are suitable for my tush."
Hemera/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Another dream came true for a Pennsylvania teenager with Down syndrome when he took to the court with the world famous Harlem Globetrotters.
Kevin Grow, 18, of Bensalem, Pa., scored a three-pointer alongside the Globetrotters in front of a hometown crowd Sunday night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
The three-point basket was especially poignant for Grow, who became a viral star last month thanks to a YouTube video that showed him sinking four three-point shots in the final two minutes of his high school’s senior night basketball game, leading the team to victory.
The video caught the eye of the Globetrotters who asked Grow, known by his teammates as KG3, to come play with his idols.
“He watches the Globetrotters religiously,” said his father Earl Grow.
“He’s always been a fan,” added his mother, Dorothy.
Grow hung out with the Globetrotters in the locker room before the game -- performing some of the tricks they’re known for, like an under-the-leg dribble, right alongside them. But it’s not the first time he’s hit the court with all-star basketball players.
Grow’s YouTube video also caught the eye of the Philadelphia 76ers, who last month signed the high school player to a ceremonial two-day contract that gave him his own team locker, jersey and sneakers and a chance to warm up with the team and sit on the bench with the NBA team.
“Kids with special needs have a lot of abilities you don’t even know,” said Dorothy Grow. “Don’t underestimate them. Challenge them.”
“Make sure they can reach their full potential,” she added.
Jake Whitman/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Can banning one school-yard word really change the world? Sheryl Sandberg says yes.
Sandberg -- the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the best-selling book Lean In -- is spearheading the launch of a campaign Monday to ban the word "bossy," arguing the negative put-down stops girls from pursuing leadership roles.
"We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead," Sandberg said, "and if you ask girls why they don't want to lead, whether it's the school project all the way on to running for office, they don't want to be called bossy, and they don't want to be disliked."
Sandberg said these attitudes begin early and continue into adulthood.
"We call girls bossy on the playground," Sandberg said. "We call them too aggressive or other B-words in the workplace. They're bossy as little girls, and then they're aggressive, political, shrill, too ambitious as women."
Sandberg's organization, Lean In, is joining forces with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Marie Chávez to launch a public service campaign called "Ban Bossy." The banbossy.com website gives tips for parents, kids, teachers and others about how to encourage young female leaders.
Chávez said she got involved immediately after receiving a call from Sandberg, and believes the Girl Scouts are ideal partners for the new initiative. More than half of all American women were once Girl Scouts and two million girls are currently in scouting, she pointed out.
"Imagine a classroom in America where 50 kids are present: 25 girls, 25 boys," Chávez said. "And the teacher walks into this classroom and says: 'Boys and girls, I have this really hard, difficult program that I need to solve that's gonna impact this country.' She writes the problem on the board and then turns around and escorts 24 of the 25 girls out of the room. ...She leaves one girl and 25 boys to solve that equation. That's what's happening every day in this country. Why wouldn't we want more girls to be opting in to building the right solutions this country."
The goal of the "Ban Bossy" campaign is to help girls and women feel more confident and comfortable as leaders.
"I was called bossy when I was in ninth grade," Sandberg recalled. "My teacher took my best friend Mindy aside and she said, 'You shouldn't be friends with Sheryl. She's bossy.' And that hurt."
While she and the other women leaders she is recruiting were able to persevere despite the taunt, many little girls can't, she said.
"If you look at the world, women do 66 percent of the work in the world. Woman produce 50 percent of the food. Women make 10 percent of the income and women own 1 percent of the property. We are 50 percent of the population. We are 5 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs," Sandberg said. "We are 17 percent of the board seats. We are 19 percent in Congress. That's not enough for 50 percent of the population. We live in a world that is overwhelming run and owned by men."
During an interview at Facebook headquarters, she and Chavez are quick to point out that they are not encouraging rude, mean-girl behavior or bullying.
"Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression," Sandberg said. "Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place."
Sandberg said she hopes the campaign will open a dialogue with parents and teachers, to eliminate the use of the word "bossy," though she concedes this is not really as simple as banning one word.
"This is a word that is symbolic of systemic discouragement of girls to lead. We are not just talking about getting rid of a word, even though we want to get rid of a word," she said. "We're talking about getting rid of the negative messages that hold our daughters back."
Sandberg is a director of The Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC News.
Watch ABC's Nightline anchor Cynthia McFadden's interview with Sandberg and Chávez on Monday, March 10, on World News with Diane Sawyer at 6:30 p.m. ET and Nightline at 12:35 a.m. ET.
monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The alluring glow of smartphones affects our skills as parents, and kids take notice, a new study found.
Researchers from Boston Medical Center went undercover in 15 local fast food restaurants to observe nature’s parenting playground. Watching silently from a distance, they observed the interactions between family members, noting in particular the reactions children had when mom or dad punched away at the portable keys.
“It’s just like people watching, basically, except we were taking very detailed notes about observations,” said Dr. Jenny S. Radesky, a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and lead author of the study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Parents in 40 of the 55 families observed were absorbed in their mobile devices, according to the study. They seemed more distracted when they were typing and making swiping motions with the fingers than when making phone calls. And almost a third of the parents used their devices continuously throughout their meal.
Some children appeared unaffected and ate their meals in silence. Other children were more provocative, with one set of siblings singing “Jingle bells, Batman smells” to get their dad’s attention.
The degree to which the device was used, however, did not necessarily directly relate to the way in which the child reacted, according to the study.
While the findings are far from conclusive when it comes to the impact of parents’ mobile device use around kids, it suggests the tech-savvy world we live in extends beyond the perimeters of the pixelated screen.
“The conclusion I wouldn’t draw from the study, is that we need to completely remove these devices when we are with our children,” Radesky said. “But it does raise the issue that we need to create boundaries for these devices when we are with our children.”
Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, agreed.
“Mealtimes in certain cultures are generally times when children make attachments,” said Beresin, who was not involved in the study. “It’s not a time when one is typically working.
“When we eat, when we snuggle, when a parent puts a child to bed -- these are important times when parent-child connectedness is important,” he said. “It sends a message to the child to pay attention to each other, to establish some intimacy.”
Beresin said the advice to parents is simple.
“The moral of the story is be observant,” he said. “Be mindful. Be aware. Both in what you are doing and in what you are teaching your children.”
Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- India's largest drugmaker recalled two batches of a generic version of Lipitor after learning of a dosage mix-up earlier this year.
Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. recalled approximately 64,000 bottles of atorvastatin calcium in the U.S. "after a product complaint was received by a pharmacist. The pharmacist said that he found a 20 milligram tablet of the medication in a sealed bottle marked as containing 90 10-milligram tablets, the Food and Drug Administration said on its website.
Ranbaxy Laboratories initiated the recall in January, covering 64,626 bottles of the pills. The batches recalled include bottles with the product codes 2407255 and 2407256 and an expiration date of May, 2014.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study has found a new method of detecting pre-clinical Alzheimer's disease using a simple blood test.
Researchers studying biomarkers in the blood found 10 key lipids, the levels of which help to determine whether the individual will go on to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease. Individuals with lower levels of those lipids were significantly more likely to experience cognitive impairment within three years. In testing, the method has successfully predicted either future mild cognitive impairment or full blown Alzheimer's more than 90 percent of the time.
The study was led by Georgetown University's Dr. Howard Federoff, who called the findings "a significant step forward." Never before, Federoff said, has anyone produced a test that can predict with such a high degree of accuracy whether a clinically asymptomatic individual will develop Alzheimer's later on.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Alzheimer's disease may claim more lives than reports have previously indicated, perhaps resulting in more American deaths than any other cause besides heart disease and cancer.
The study was published earlier this week in the journal Neurology and determined that many reported deaths miss Alzheimer's disease as an underlying cause of death. The report, USA Today says, found that annual Alzheimer's death rates should be closer to 500,000 than the 85,000 or so counted by the government.
Heart disease and cancer each account for over 500,000 deaths each year.
Researchers estimated that 503,400 Americans over the age of 75 died of Alzheimer's in 2010. The data came from about 2,500 people over the age of 65.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- People who suffer from skin cancer at a younger age may be at risk of other cancers later in life, new research shows.
Researchers in the United Kingdom compared data on 500,000 patients with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer and nearly nine million cancer-free individuals. Six years later, the skin cancer survivors were 36 percent more likely to develop a second cancer somewhere else in their bodies. Notably, the younger the skin cancer survivor, the more likely they were to suffer another cancer. Young adults -- under 25 years old -- were 23 times more likely to develop another cancer and 94 times more likely to develop melanoma -- a more deadly form of skin cancer.
Researchers say that part of the risk is due to genetics -- cancer can run in families. Still, patients who survive a battle with non-melanoma skin cancer should be careful with their diet, exercise and sleep patters, as cancer could rear its head again.
tomasworks/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Get ready to roll your clocks forward into daylight saving time -- the bittersweet switch that signals spring but delivers a blow to your sleep.
For most people, a 23-hour Sunday means a mildly sleepy Monday. But for some -- particularly those who aren't big on mornings to begin with -- daylight saving time takes a toll on mood and productivity, earning blame for car accidents, workplace injuries and stock market dips.
"It's an interesting paradox, because traveling one time zone east or west is very easy for anyone to adapt to," said Dr. Alfred Lewy, director of Oregon Health and Science University's Sleep and Mood Disorders Laboratory in Portland. "But in daylight saving time, the new light-dark cycle is perversely working against the body clock. We're getting less sunlight in morning and more in the evening."
The body clock is a cluster of neurons deep inside the brain that generates the circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle. The cycle spans roughly 24 hours, but it's not precise.
"It needs a signal every day to reset it," said Lewy.
The signal is sunlight, which shines in through the eyes and "corrects the cycle from approximately 24 hours to precisely 24 hours," said Lewy. But when the sleep-wake and light-dark cycles don't line up, people can feel out-of-sync, tired and downright grumpy.
With time, the body clock adjusts on its own. But here are a few ways to help it along:
Soak Up the Morning Light
Getting some early morning sun Saturday and Sunday can help the brain's sleep-wake cycle line up with the new light-dark cycle. But it means getting up and outside at dawn. Sleeping by a window won't cut it, Lewy said. The sunlight needs to be direct because glass filters out much of the frequencies involved in re-setting the sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid Evening Light
Resisting the urge to linger in the late sunlight Sunday and Monday also can help the body clock adjust, Lewy said.
Try a Lose Dose of Melatonin
While light synchronizes the body clock in the morning, the hormone melatonin updates it at night. The exact function of the hormone, produced by the pea-size pineal gland in the middle of the brain, is unclear. But it can activate melatonin receptors on the neurons of the body clock, acting as a "chemical signal for darkness," Lewy said. Taking a low-dose (less than 0.3 milligrams) of melatonin late in the afternoon Friday through Monday can help sync the sleep-wake and light-dark cycles. But be careful: Though melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, it can cause drowsiness and interfere with other drugs.
iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA) -- A Florida family, which included a pregnant woman, were hospitalized after consuming meat laced with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, according to the Tampa Police Department.
The family of four was sickened Monday night and did not initially know what caused the “mysterious illness,” but the county medical examiner’s office determined it was the psychedelic drug, officials said.
“It is still under investigation how the drug ended up in the family’s meal,” according to the police statement. “At this point, it is not clear if a crime has occurred.”
The woman, Jessica Rosado, 31, was nine months pregnant and doctors induced labor, authorities said.
Rosado gave birth to a healthy baby boy and released from the hospital Thursday.
Her boyfriend, Ronnie Morales, 24, along with Rosado’s two children -- Elyana Serrano, 7, and Rayna Serrano, 6 -- also fell ill and started experiencing hallucinations. All three received tracheal intubation and have since been released from the hospital.
Police said the meat came from a Walmart store. It appears to be an isolated incident and the store is cooperating with officials, police said.
The federal and state departments of agriculture have joined the Hillsborough County Health Department and Tampa Police in their investigation.