Depictions of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) 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 Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).
Read this article for further information on television shows for children featuring characters with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)
TV & Movies
TV and movies have done a good job over the years of representing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) 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.
The 2015 PBS animated film explores the sensory experience of vision, sound, touch and smell from an autistic perspective. While autism is largely regarded as a social disorder, Spectrum reveals the underlying sensory differences that create an autistic perspective.
Streaming on Netflix, Crip Camp documents the experience of a group of teens in 1971 at Camp Jened, a summer camp in New York for teens with disabilities, and their rise as activists in the fight for accessibility legislation.
Image from www.fredrogers.org
Fans of Daniel Tiger were recently introduced to a new recurring character diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Max is Teacher Harriet’s nephew, and the show focuses on embracing differences and inclusion rather than on ASD. Israel Thomas-Bruce, a teen with autism, voices the character. Watch a clip here.
Drought is set in 1993 in North Carolina when the state was experiencing a major drought. Carl, a teen with autism, and his sister and two friends, set out on a road trip to chase a storm he predicts.
LOVE, HOPE & AUTISM
Steaming on Amazon Prime, LOVE, HOPE & AUTISM chronicles Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) through 21 years of home movie footage taken by a family raising a son with ASD. Viewers get an intimate look on how ASD affects families.
Mozart and the Whale
Inspired by a true story, Mozart and the Whale depicts the romance between a couple who both have Aspberger’s.
Please Stand By
Please Stand By is the story of a brilliant young woman with autism who writes a Star Trek screenplay. To submit her manuscript on time for a competition, she sneaks out of her group home and ventures off on an adventure to Hollywood.
Directed by Jacob Goldwasser (whose son has special needs), Shoelaces tells the story of a complicated father-son relationship between a man with kidney disease and his 35-year-old son with special needs.
Part of Broadway on Demand, The Miracle Project’s musical is about a family who moves to the city from the Midwest and how the influences of work, peer pressure, and social media affect them. The original piece was created with and stars a neurodiverse cast of teens and young adults.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. View additional resources by Sesame Street.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Life Goes On” chronicles the experiences of the Thacher family, particularly Corky, who has Down syndrome.
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:
In A Different Key
A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, The book documents the story of the first person with Autism, Donald, known as Case 1. Now an elderly man living in rural Mississippi, we learn about his life and the struggles families faced in the early years when children were shamed and institutionalized. The book also highlights the work done to secure the right of children to attend school; challenging misconceptions and fighting for acceptance and an understanding of autism.
In December of 2022, PBS aired the documentary, In a Different Key, by book co-authors John Donvan and Caren Zucker. As the movie interviews Donald Triplett, living in the same town where he was born and surrounded by the community that supports him, reporter Caren Zucker considers life for her son who is also on the spectrum.
In My Kehillah –
A Book About Friends
It’s vital for children to learn to be inclusive from an early age. In My Kehillah helps accomplish this by teaching the four Jewish concepts of Adam Yechidi Nivra (every person is a unique creation), Chesed (loving kindness), Kavod (respect), and Kehillah (community). The end of the book has a discussion guide, which helps reinforce each of the concepts.
Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?
Leslie Connor, the award-winning author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, returns with Anybody Here Seen Frenchie, a compassionate work of young adult fiction told from multiple perspectives that delves into themes such as friendship, community, and sensitivity to our neurodiverse neighbors.
Anybody Here Seen Frenchie teaches that friendships create a sense of belonging, to accept and respect others just as they are, to be there when someone needs a friend, to be yourself, and how you can make a difference in someone’s life by including that person in your community. Learn more about Anybody Here Seen Frenchie
Blended and Special
Blended and Special by Andrea Campbell explores some of the challenges stepfamilies face when building a new family that includes children with special needs.
Dragon and His Friend
Dragon and His Friend by Steve Herman: This fun story is a relatable way to explain autism, emotions, and behavior on a child’s level.
Ending The Power Struggle
Heather McMillan (Author) and Michael Zimmerli (Editor) have crafted strategies parents can implement to address challenging behavior like noncompliance, arguing, and aggression. Ending the Power Struggle: 5 Strategies for Parents of Children with Disabilities can be used with toddlers and teens alike.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!
Baseball fans will appreciate Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit about a girl with autism who wants to be on her local baseball team and has a Major League player as a pen pal.
I have a question about death, I have a question about cancer, and I have a question about divorce
The I have a question about… book series by authors by Arlen Grad Gaines and Meredith Englander Polsky are designed to help kids, including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other needs, understand what it means when someone in their life passes away, has cancer, or gets divorced.
Life Skills Workbooks for Teens and Adults with Autism and Special Needs
The Life Skills Workbooks for Teens and Adults with Autism and Special Needs by Susan Jules are guides to help with independence, self-care, and life fulfillment. It focuses on:
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison is the author’s memoir as a quirky boy with odd habits who went on to build a family and dream up special effects for the rock group KISS (including the band’s famous exploding guitars).
Special Needs Trusts: Protect Your Child’s Financial Future
Special Needs Trusts: Protect Your Child’s Financial Future 9th Edition, by authors Kevin Urbatsch and Jessica Farinas Jones, is a guide to protecting your loved one’s financial future without jeopardizing benefits.
We Walk: Life with Severe Autism
In We Walk: Life with Severe Autism, Amy Lutz writes candidly about her experience raising a son with autism and explores questions and social issues relating to neurodiversity.
Women with Autism
Women with Autism by Dr. Claire Jack, PH.D. coaches women through an autism diagnosis to help them move forward with compassion toward self-acceptance. The book provides a checklist of women’s symptoms, discusses the stages involved in seeking out a diagnosis, and helps women with autism establish a plan for living a fulfilling life.
We’re Not Broken:
Changing the Autism
We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation is reporter Eric Garcia’s look at the portrayal of autism in the United States. As a self-advocate, the author explores the experiences of many with autism and how they are supported (or not supported) in systems built for a typical population.
We’re Amazing 1,2,3! A Story About Friendship and Autism (Sesame Street)(Big Golden Book)
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!
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.
by Jesse A. Saperstein
This book highlights the poignant, funny, and truly unique observations of a young writer diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
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.
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.
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.
Hannah, superhero princess, explains her Down Syndrome Superpowers, how they affect her, and how she’s more like other kids than different.
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!
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.
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.
How To Talk,
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.”
April 28, 2020
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.
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.
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.
(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.