Depictions of people with disabilities exist in various media — from television to movies to books — and provide an educational view of their unique abilities, challenges, and needs. Explore more here.

Read this article for further information on 18 Inspiring Netflix Shows Committed to Representing People With Disabilities.

Read this article for further information on television shows for children featuring characters with disabilities


TV & Movies

TV and movies have done a good job over the years of representing people with disabilities and incorporating them into entertainment mediums. Several animated and puppet characters have even been developed to teach child audiences about kids who may be different and how to include them in daily life.

 

Daredevil

Blinded as a young boy, Matt Murdock fights injustice by day as a lawyer and by night as the Super Hero Daredevil. Read more

Photo Credit: Netflix

Loop

A non-verbal, autistic girl and a chatty boy are partnered on a canoeing trip. To complete their journey across an urban lake, they must both learn how the other experiences the world. Read more

Photo Credit: Pixar

Raising Dion

A widowed mom sets out to solve the mystery surrounding her young son’s emerging superpowers while keeping his extraordinary gifts under wraps. Read more

Photo Credit: Netflix

Special

A young gay man with cerebral palsy branches out from his insular existence in hopes of finally going after the life he wants. Read more

Photo Credit: Netflix

Stranger Things

When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments. Main character Dustin (as well as the actor who portrays him) has cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD), a rare genetic disorder affecting the development of the bones and teeth. Read more

Photo Credit: Netflix

The Healing Powers Of Dude

When an 11 year old boy with a social anxiety disorder starts middle school, he finds strength in a scruffy emotional support dog named Dude. Read more

Photo Credit: Netflix

Peanut-butter-falcon DVD Case

The Peanut Butter Falcon

2019 | MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) | Closed Caption
A modern Mark Twain-style adventure story, The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).

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Born this way show poster

Born This Way

Born This Way on A&E is an American reality television series featuring seven adults with Down syndrome who work hard to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. The series has been hailed for helping to change the way viewers see the disabled community by depicting the lives of special-needs young adults as they seek independence from their parents, embark on careers, and begin romantic relationships.

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The good doctor show DVD Cover

The Good Doctor

Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon who has savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join the surgical unit at the prestigious San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital — a move strongly supported by his mentor Dr. Aaron Glassman. Having survived a troubled childhood, Shaun is alone in the world and unable to personally connect with those around him, but he finds his niche using his extraordinary medical skill and intuition to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues.

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life-animated DVD case

Life, Animated

From Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams comes the story of Owen Suskind, a young man who couldn’t speak as a child until he discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing himself in the world of Disney animated films.

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too-sane-for-this-world poster

Too Sane for This World

Too Sane for This World explores the challenges and perspectives of 12 adults on the autism spectrum. A unique collaboration between neurotypical and atypical individuals, men and women living on the spectrum speak candidly about their autism, difficulties they’ve faced, and the experiences that have shaped their lives, illustrating the neurodiversity of the mind and its limitless potential.

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aspergers-are-us poster

Asperger’s Are Us

In this coming-of-age documentary, four friends on the autism spectrum who have bonded through humor and performed as the comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us will prepare for one final, ambitious show before going their separate ways.

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atypical-Tv show poster

Atypical

It focuses on the life of 18-year-old Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), who is on the autism spectrum and begins to learn the social nuances of dating.

Atypical Season 3 | Artists on the Spectrum | Behind the Scenes:
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Parenthood show poster

Parenthood

Parenthood, created by Jason Katims and produced by Ron Howard, is widely credited with moving the needle on autism awareness due to one of its central characters, Max Braverman, played by American actor Max Burkholder. Max has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that includes difficulty developing meaningful relationships, trouble making eye contact, and inability to show affection.

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Meet Julia from Sesame Street

Julia is part of the Sesame Street initiative, which aims to teach children about autism. When Sesame Street introduced Julia last year, she made headlines for being the first Sesame Street muppet with autism. Watch Julia’s debut in the video below:

Speechless

Speechless, a comedy about a modern family featuring an actor with a real-life disability, gets a few things right about parents and their children. The show highlights that it’s not always easy to find good help and the right specialists, special needs parents have to advocate for the most basic of things, it is a struggle to give siblings of children with disabilities the attention they need and deserve, and parents of individuals with special needs — like any other parents — will do anything it takes to help their kids.

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Autism: The Musical

AUTISM: THE MUSICAL follows acting coach Elaine Hall, Executive Director of The Miracle Project (a Federation partner organization), five autistic children, and their parents as they improbably, heroically mount a full-length original stage production. Through trial and error, tears and laughter, these incredible families learn to communicate their feelings in song and performance, finding solace and joy in the act of creating.

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Up Syndrome

Up Syndrome is the true story of director Duane Graves’ childhood friend Rene Moreno. As the two grew older, their paths in life became increasingly different — largely because Rene has Down syndrome. In this acclaimed documentary, Graves chronicles a year in Rene’s life after he graduates high school and attempts to make sense of the world around him, holding on to his optimism at every setback.

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How to Dance in Ohio

How to Dance in Ohio is a documentary film about a group of teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum as they prepare for a Spring Formal by practicing their social skills for 12 weeks at a local nightclub.

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Life Goes On

Life Goes On is television’s first drama series built around Corky Thatcher, a character with Down syndrome, and the experiences of his parents and siblings.

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Books

JDAIM Reads! Whether you read by yourself, with your family, or in a book club, here are recommendations for books that increase understanding about and awareness of people living with special needs and their families:


Connecting With The Autism Spectrum: How To Talk, How To Listen, And Why You Shouldn’t Call It High-Functioning

by Casey “Remrov” Vormer

Described a guide providing strategies and insights on communicating with a friend, family member or coworker with autism that will make interactions rewarding and meaningful for all. As an autism advocate, author Casey Vormer says “It’s important to look at every autistic person individually and recognize their obstacles―but more importantly, we should acknowledge their skills and avoid labeling them with ‘high functioning autism’ or ‘low functioning autism’ altogether.”

Thriving with Autism: 90 Activities to Encourage Your Child’s Communication, Engagement, and Play Paperback — April 28, 2020

by Katie Cook MEd BCBA

For parents and caregivers of children with autism ages 1-11, this is a toolbox of evidence-based activities to help strengthen skills, engagement, self-regulation and communication.

Cakes and Miracles

(a Jewish Federation PJ Library book) by Barbara Diamond Goldin (Author), Jaime Zollars

When an angel appears in young, blind Hershel’s dream and encourages him to make what he sees when he closes his eyes, the boy sneaks into the kitchen and transforms his mother’s cookie dough into beautiful culinary creations. Hershel adapts to his sensory challenges and develops unique ways in which to help his mother and ultimately educate others.

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We’re Amazing 1,2,3! A Story About Friendship and Autism (Sesame Street)(Big Golden Book)

by Leslie Kimmelman (Author), Mary Beth Nelson (Illustrator)

As part of Sesame Street’s initiative to educate about autism, kids can read a story that introduces Julia who sometimes does things differently but still wants to play, be friends and have fun!

All the world book poster

All the World

(a Jewish Federation PJ Library book) by Liz Garton Scanlon (Author), Marla Frazee (Illustrator)

All the World follows a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning until night. This book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to the warmth of family connections, to the widest sunset sky.

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Dr.Temple Garndin book cover image

The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s

by Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin created the “hug box,” a device to calm those with autism. These are just some of the specific topics she delves into: how and why people with autism think differently, economical early intervention programs that work, how sensory sensitivities affect learning, behaviors caused by a disability vs. just bad behaviors, teaching people with autism to live in an unpredictable world, alternative vs. conventional medicine, and employment ideas for adults with autism on the most current autism research.

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atypical book Cover

Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters

by Jesse A. Saperstein

This book highlights the poignant, funny, and truly unique observations of a young writer diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

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inclusion book cover

Inclusion and the Power of the Individual

By Rabbi Ari Sollish

At a time when exclusion was the norm — when people with disabilities were essentially locked out of mainstream schools, the workforce, and society, and were stigmatized, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, was an inclusion pioneer who advocated for those who society all too often pushed away.

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All My Stripes

By authors Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer ; Jennifer Zivoin (Illustrator)

This is the story of Zane, a zebra with autism who worries that his differences make him stand out from his peers. With careful guidance from his mother, Zane learns that autism is only one of many qualities that make him special. The book contains a Note to Parents by Drew Coman, PhD, and Ellen Braaten, PhD, as well as a Foreword by Alison Singer, President of the Autism Science Foundation.

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uniquely wired book cover

Uniquely Wired: A Story About Autism and Its Gifts

By Julia Cook (Author) and Anita DuFalla (Illustrator)

Zak is obsessed with watches. Before that it was trains. He owns hundreds of watches (he has quite the watch collection) and is quick to tell everyone everything about them. Zak also has autism, so he sometimes responds to the world around him in unconventional ways. As Zak describes his point of view, young readers gain a better understanding of his behaviors and learn valuable lessons about patience, curiosity, tolerance, and understanding.
A great tool for parents of children with autism or special education teachers of grades K-5.

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Hannah's Down Syndrome Superpowers Book Cover

Hannah’s Down Syndrome Superpowers

By Lori Leigh Yarborough (Author) and Roksana Oslizlo (Illustrator)

Hannah, superhero princess, explains her Down Syndrome Superpowers, how they affect her, and how she’s more like other kids than different.

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The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

by Julia Finley Mosca (Author), Daniel Rieley (Illustrator)

The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin depicts Temple as a child who was diagnosed with autism at an early age and not expected to talk, let alone become one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Yet, the determined visual thinker did just that. Her unique mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the globe!

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The Warner Boys: Our Family’s Story of Autism and Hope

by Ana & Curt Warner 

Seahawks star running back Curt Warner and his wife Ana dropped out of the public eye after Curt’s retirement to care for their severely autistic twins Austin and Christian. The Warners share their inspiring journey from stardom to heartbreaking self-imposed isolation.

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No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement

by Randy Lewis  

Senior Vice President of Walgreens Randy Lewis used his personal experience with his autistic son to transform one of America’s largest corporations into an inclusive workplace, changing people’s lives — and the world — for the better.

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Being the Other One: Growing Up with a Brother or Sister Who Has Special Needs

by Kate Strohm

Based on the author’s own experience and extensive interviews, this book reveals the difficulties faced by siblings at all stages of life, from early childhood through adulthood, when siblings must often assume responsibility for the care of their brothers and sisters living with disabilities.

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From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community
by Shelly Christensen

A practical guide, this book promotes a person-centered, relationship-based approach and provides step-by-step direction through the key processes so important to faith community inclusion.

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Nathan’s Autism Spectrum Superpowers

by Lori Leigh Yarborough (Author), Natalie Merheb (Illustrator)

Nathan, the superhero of this book, explains his “Autism Spectrum Superpowers” — how they affect him and ways his friends can help out when they spiral out of control. This book may be used as a tool to empower children and their friends, families, and caregivers to understand kids with “superpowers.”

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Nathan Blows out the Hanukkah Candles

(a Jewish Federation PJ Library book) by Nicole Katzman (Author), Jeremy Tugeau (Illustrator).

Centered around Nathan, a child with high-functioning autism, the story introduces young children to autism other developmental disorders. The book’s characters — and readers — learn the important Jewish value of how to accept the “other” and to love, understand, and respect children who act different.

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