Special Needs Characters in Movies, TV, and Books - The Gateway School

Special Needs Characters in Movies, TV, and Books

Special Needs Characters in Movies, TV, and Books

In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the metaphor “windows, mirrors, and sliding doors” to describe the power of representation in children’s books. She wrote: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author.”

Representation of diverse people in books (as well as movies, TV, and music, etc.) can be a way to learn about others who are different than you. Just as important, Dr. Sims Bishop noted that books can serve as mirrors where children can see positive reflections of themselves. “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Representation in books, TV, and film matters because it shows all kids that they are an integral part of our culture and not separate from it. Everyone deserves to see affirming visions of themselves in the culture around them, but neurodiversity and diversity of physical abilities is still not as well represented in popular culture as it should be. Below is a list of recent movies, TV shows, and books that are starting to make physical and neurological diversity more visible in our culture.

Neurodiversity in Movies

Far From the Tree (unrated) Based on the New York Times bestselling book by Andrew Solomon, this documentary examines the experiences of families in which parents and children are profoundly different from one another in a variety of ways. 

The Reason I Jump (unrated) Based on the book by autistic author, Naoki Higashida, this immersive film explores the experiences of non-speaking autistic people around the world. 

Swim Team (unrated) Parents of a boy diagnosed on the autism spectrum help form a competitive swim team, recruiting other teens diagnosed with ASD and training with high expectations and zero pity.

Neurodiversity in TV Series

Atypical (rated TV-14) When a teen on the autism spectrum decides to get a girlfriend, his bid for more independence puts his whole family on a path of self-discovery.

The Good Doctor (rated TV-14) A young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome is recruited into the pediatric surgical unit of a prestigious hospital.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (rated TV-14) Actress Kayla Cromer is on the autism spectrum herself and portrays an autistic teenage girl grieving the death of her father in this darkly funny series.

Neurodiversity in Books

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte. Winner of the 2021 Schneider Family Book Award (middle grades category), which honors authors or illustrators for the artistic expression of the disability experience. Ann Clare LeZotte, a Deaf librarian and author, tells the story of Mary Lambert, a young girl growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in 1805, where 1 in 25 of the population is deaf. 

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything written by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins. This illustrated picture book depicts the true story of a young girl who was born with cerebral palsy and, at age 8, became an activist for the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.

As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.

Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ