By Tejas Athni
Kicking off a research symposium focused on the future of special education, acclaimed author and journalist Ron Suskind will deliver Stanford’s 2019 Cubberley Lecture this Wednesday. He will focus on his personal experience of raising a child with autism.
The Cubberley Lecture is presented annually by the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE). Past speakers have included teacher and former Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden, actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith and author Jacqueline Woodson. The lecture and subsequent panel discussion are free and open to the public and will be live-streamed on the GSE’s Facebook page.
Suskind was a senior national affairs writer for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000. During this time, he received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his stories about inner-city students in Washington, D.C. and their determination to succeed. Since then, Suskind has authored six best-selling books, including his memoir, “Life, Animated,” which details his son Owen’s diagnosis with autism. The documentary based on the book won an Emmy Award for Best Documentary last year, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017. Suskind was the executive producer.
“When Owen was diagnosed, I was living a very public life as the senior national affairs reporter at The Wall Street Journal, writing about America, its struggle with democracy and its role in the world,” Suskind said in an interview with the GSE.
But after his son’s diagnosis, Suskind decided to change directions as a journalist. He started to search for more “left-behind” people, both in America and around the world. Soon, however, Suskind realized that the most drastically left-behind person could be right in front of his eyes: his own son.
“At one point Owen, talking about how ‘people don’t see me for who I am,’ issued a kind of challenge for us to help change how the world looked at people like him,” Suskind said.
This prompted Suskind to write his memoir, as well as to become more involved in the issue of special education. After the book was released in 2014, Suskind started The Affinity Project, an organization devoted to developing technologies to support kids with autism.
To date, the organization has built a new kind of “screen-sharing, co-viewing technology” to assist people in connecting with each other and sharing videos. Dubbed “campfiring,” Suskind hopes that this technology will facilitate a common gathering of people with a variety of passions.
“Gathering around what we love, and having that be the avenue of connection, reveals the human character in a different light, and taps our deepest potential,” Suskind said. “We’re in a Gutenberg moment.”
Contact Tejas Athni at tathni ‘at’ stanford.edu.