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.

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.

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, 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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Rain Man

Winner of Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor (Dustin Hoffman) in 1988, the story follows two brothers, one of whom is an autistic savant in the possession of a $3 million inheritance from his late father, and the other, a hot-shot L.A. car dealer. They embark on a physical journey, but it becomes much more than that.  It’s a connection between two vastly different people in a poignant, profound, and powerful film.

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Forrest Gump

Winner of Best Picture in 1995, Tom Hanks portrays Forrest Gump, a sort of autistic savant who goes through life as a bit of an inept bumbler, oblivious to social signals and norms, but possesses an ability to focus in on technical details and follow clear instructions with laser-like precision. The film follows the life of this fascinating character.

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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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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:

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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The Mitten String

(a Jewish Federation PJ Library book) by Jennifer Rosner (Author), Kristina Swarner (Illustrator)

When her family invites a deaf woman and her baby to stay, Ruthie, a talented knitter of mittens, wonders how the mother will know if her child wakes in the night. The surprising answer inspires Ruthie to knit a special gift that offers great comfort to mother and baby — and to Ruthie herself.

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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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