Recently, there have been several television shows that include a character who has special needs. Many of these characters are young adults, or teenagers, who are part of an ensemble cast of main characters. Others appear now and again, on a few episodes in a series. This is a big improvement from the “very special episodes” that would sometimes focus on a person with special needs, who would disappear from the series after that episode ended.
Glee is an extremely popular television show about a group of teenagers who are in the Glee Club of their high school. These students can sing and dance very well, and enjoy performing. Which, naturally, makes them social pariahs. The main characters are a diverse group. Each has their own, personal, issues to deal with, (like all teenagers have).
One of the main characters is Artie, played by actor Kevin McHale. Artie is a talented guitar player, and an amazing singer, who happens to be in a wheelchair. There has been some controversy because the actor who plays Artie does not actually need a wheelchair. One might argue that the part should have gone to an actor who really was a person with a physical disability that required the use of a wheelchair. Others might argue that it is not about the actor, it is the character of Artie that is important.
Glee also includes a minor character named Becky, played by Lauren Potter, an actress who has Down Syndrome. Becky tries out for the cheerleading team. The coach, a woman who is notoriously mean to her cheerleaders, (and to everyone else), chooses Becky, and proceeds to treat her exactly the same way as she treats the rest of the cheerleaders. She didn’t suddenly start being nice simply because Becky has special needs. Becky appears to be quite happy to be a cheerleader, as any teenager would be.
Community is show about a group of adults who form a study group for the Spanish class that they are all enrolled in at a community college. This is another ensemble cast of quirky characters. Abed, played by actor Danny Pudi, is a young adult who is brilliant, who doesn’t always make eye contact, and who a film buff. Abed has memorized hundreds of movies, can quote them verbatim, and is able to relate to other people through what he learned about social interaction in the movies. In the pilot episode, his friends mention that they think Abed has Asperger’s Syndrome. While this is never officially confirmed, it is interesting to see a character like Abed who has a successful academic and social life, as a main character on a tv show.
Image by William Hook on Flickr