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Top TV Shows & Movies Featuring Characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder

As more and more children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, also on the rise is the portrayal of characters in film and television with ASD. The CDC estimates that one in 59 children are being diagnosed with ASD every year. With this change in family statistics comes the need to depict these families and their experiences in the entertainment industry as a mirror to real life.

Despite the growing representation of characters with ASD, there has been much criticism of Hollywood due to the casting of neurotypical actors and the lack of representation of actors with ASD. Those criticisms aside, there are TV shows, films and special presentations all sharing the same ultimate goal: “improve understanding and spread empathy for both those with ASD and the caregivers and family members who deal with the disorder.”

Here is a list of television shows, special presentations and films that are available to stream online (or will be in the near future), slowly teaching the world about people with ASD and their families one streaming video at a time:

  1. “Temple Grandin: The Autistic Brain” is a special presentation available for viewing on YouTube that took place at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival. This hour long video is a talk by Temple Grandin, one of the world’s biggest advocates for people with ASD, to inspire the world to celebrate the strengths of people with ASD as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses.

  1. If you are especially inspired by “Temple Grandin: The Autistic Brain,” additionally available to watch is the incredible HBO original film Temple Grandin, featuring an award-winning performance by Claire Danes. This film follows the real life story of Temple Grandin’s early diagnosis and her extraordinary journey.” Temple Grandin is available to watch on HBO, Amazon, YouTube, amongst many other streaming services.

  1. Netflix’s Atypical was one of the most popular TV shows on Netflix in 2017. Atypical is a heartwarming series featuring an 18 year-old young man who is on the autism spectrum and his search for love in the tumultuous atmosphere of high school. Atypical is only available to stream on Netflix and was renewed for a second season just a month after its 2017 release.

  1. ABC’s The Good Doctor is based on a South Korean series and centers around a young surgeon who has ASD and savant syndrome who is recruited to work at a prestigious hospital. The Good Doctor is available to stream on ABC, Hulu, Amazon amongst many other streaming options.

  1. NBC’s Parenthood Running from 2010 to 2015 on NBC, Parenthood was one of the first depictions on mainstream television of a family experiencing the diagnosis, treatment and navigating the everyday life of a family member with autism. Parenthood is available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and many more sites.

  1. As of July 2018, Israel’s award-winning TV series On the Spectrum is not currently available to stream online, but has garnered many awards and accolades including being the only non-English speaking TV series to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

  1. Rounding out our list of films and TV series is a documentary available to view on Amazon. Autism in Love follows 4 adults with ASD as they navigate the world of dating, love and relationships. Autism in Love was also an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival.

With every year that goes by, while the prevalence and understanding of ASD continues to grow, more and more feature films, documentaries, special presentations and TV shows will continue to shed light on individuals with ASD, their families, their communities and their caregivers.

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A Closer Look at Autism Spectrum Disorders

Working with students on the autism spectrum can pose unique challenges for teachers, which is why many educators decide to pursue a Master’s of Special EducationAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by a wide range or “spectrum” of strengths and differences in social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 68 children has been identified with ASD.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association folded all subgroups of autism (formerly considered separate diagnoses) into one umbrella grouping of ASD in its latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Mainstream and special education teachers, however, should understand the characteristics of these previous subgroups, as well as the teaching challenges they present, because the level of disability for students with ASD can range from mildly impaired to severely disabled. Here’s a breakdown of the subgroups.

Asperger Syndrome

On the milder end of the spectrum, students with Asperger syndrome struggle with social interactions, have limited interests and exhibit repetitive behaviors. As some experience delayed development of motor skills, they might appear clumsy and display awkward mannerisms. According to theAutism Society, “what distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from classic autism are its less severe symptoms and the absence of language delays.”

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), aka PDD-NOS

Students with PDD-NOS exhibit some (but not all) of autism’s characteristics or have relatively mild symptoms, which is why some experts even refer to PDD-NOS as “subthreshold autism.” According to Autism Speaks, “its defining features are significant challenges in social and language development.”

Autistic Disorder

Research Autism characterizes autistic disorder, also known as classic autism, as a pervasive developmental disorder that appears before the age of three and is defined by abnormal functioning in all three ASD areas: reciprocal social interaction, communication and restricted, stereotyped, repetitive behavior 

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

As the rarest subgroup and most severe end of the spectrum, childhood disintegrative disorder describes children who develop normally for the first few years and then quickly lose many social, language, motor and other skills, usually between ages two and four. Often these children also develop a seizure disorder. 

Teaching Challenges

Since many of the characteristics overlap from one ASD subgroup to another, they present some common teaching challenges. For example, because of struggles with communication and social skills, students with ASD might lack eye contact and social reciprocity, resulting in one-sided conversations or giving the appearance of being aloof. They might miss nonverbal cues, struggle to “read between the lines” or see things from someone else’s perspective, making it hard to predict or understand the behavior of others. While some students with ASD might have terrific rote memory, they might find it difficult to understand abstract verbal concepts such as idioms and sarcasm.

The Organization for Autism Research points to common school situations that might cause stress and behavior problems, such as handling transitions, understanding directions, interacting with peers and feeling overwhelmed by stimuli (i.e., noises, lights, etc.). This means students with ASD might struggle with making friends, interpreting facial expressions, working in groups or adapting to a change in classroom routines. Due to the stress (and perhaps as a coping mechanism), students with ASD might exhibit repetitive behaviors (such as rocking or hand-flapping) that could be disruptive to other students. 

The Autism Society says that “some children need help understanding social situations and developing appropriate responses. Others exhibit aggressive or self-injurious behavior, and need assistance managing their behaviors.”

Each student with ASD has individual strengths and challenges, so targeted training helps teachers tailor programs to their unique needs and abilities.While a dedicated classroom might be a great fit for some students with ASD, an inclusive, mainstream classroom might work best for others. By understanding both the characteristics of ASD and the teaching challenges they present, teachers will be better equipped to help all their students succeed.

Learn more about career opportunities in this important specialty, and if you’re ready to pursue advanced education options then check out our favorite online degree programs.

Reasons to Love Working with Children on the Autism Spectrum

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental disabilities in the United States, growing from a diagnosis of one in 150 children in 2000 to one in 59 children being identified with autism spectrum disorder by 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For teachers with a Master’s Degree in Special Education, working with children who have autism is likely, and it’s something that can provide valuable rewards in both emotional and career growth.

When working with those who have autism, you can make a tremendous impact on that student’s life and their future success.

You’re Not Limited to Traditional Educational Methods

Children on the autism spectrum respond to varied educational methods. This allows educators to explore teaching strategies that may not be found in many traditional classrooms.

For example, a school designed solely for teaching children with autism called Beyond Autism in Scottsdale, Arizona, integrates activities such as deep-breathing, yoga exercises, music and art therapy. Regular field trips that allow for sensory exploration, as well as chores, cooking and self-sustaining projects like taking care of pets and gardening are all parts of the everyday curriculum, Phoenix Magazine reports.

As parents work with teachers on individualized education plans, they may indicate to educators that life skills are high on their priority list, especially for older students. Integrating these teaching priorities into school curriculums expands the educator’s role.

You Become a Valuable Ally to a Family

As a teacher for students with autism, you are a valuable puzzle piece that can be the catalyst for a child’s success. Parents will rely on you to provide their children with autism specialized teaching that fits their unique learning style and perspective.

Autism advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, says it’s vital for teachers of students with autism to have close relationships with the families of their students. Families provide an essential history of the students, including methods that have garnered positive responses and those that haven’t worked.

The relationship between teachers and families is circular, as what works in the classroom can be communicated back to caregivers, who can apply those successful methods back at home and foster overall growth.

You Expand Your Methods of Communication

Just as the world has visual, auditory and kinetic learners, children on the autism spectrum have even more intricacies regarding ways of best receiving and processing information. Scholastic reports while visual aids such as “if/then” cards can be instrumental in helping children with autism understand social situations, visual cues such as body language may not register when you’re trying to convey something to an autistic student. Instead, direct language may be more effective.

Sensory activities like using a stress ball or bearing weight such as a lap pad or backpack can also aid in communication. Often, multiple types of communication are required throughout each day to effectively keep a student on track while they’re working on various tasks. As someone who works with autistic children, you can sharpen your communication skills and quickly adapt.

You Can Help New Extraordinary Talents Emerge

As many as one in three people with autism may possess exceptional talents, resulting in “savant syndrome” that indicates a combination of significant cognitive difficulties and profound skills, reports autism research site Spectrum.

Many more children with autism than those in traditional classrooms may possess special abilities in areas including mechanical, musical, mathematical and artistic disciplines, and many also have an exceptional memory.

Some of the world’s brightest minds, both historically and those working today, had or have autism, with historians speculating composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll, and artist Andy Warhol having been on the spectrum.

As you effectively work with autistic children and find better ways to communicate with them, as well as give them opportunities to explore talents in these areas, new amazing talents may emerge that could change the world.

You Can Work with Individual Students More Closely

Students with autism require one-on-one attention and personalized teaching techniques to be successful. Paying attention to individual needs with children who have autism is critical to support their growth. Educators serve as advocates for independence, who are there to support victories as simple as self-care. You as a teacher should set unique goals for students based on their current skills, and constantly update skill area objectives with scaffolding steps as gains are made.

What motivates each student with autism must be used as rewards to help focus attention and increase learning gains. All of this requires getting to know your students with autism closely, so you can increase the likelihood of celebrating the progress they make.

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Special Education (Endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorder) from Saint Joseph’s University and how you can make a difference in student’s lives. Call (866) 758-7670 to speak with an Program Manager or request more information online.

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Focus Your Special Education Career With a Specialization

Focus Your Special Education Career With a SpecializationFor special education professionals, choosing a specialty can have personal and professional benefits. Focusing on one area allows you to tailor your training and professional development in a defined space. It enables you to develop your expertise into a valuable career advantage. From a personal standpoint, specialization provides the opportunity to concentrate on the role that is most fulfilling, and where you feel you can make the best contribution to the profession and society.

There are many paths within the realm of special education, so there are many options to help you find the role that best fits your individual needs and goals. 

Here are just a few of the diverse avenues of specialization available in special education. 

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis involves the study of human behavior – or why people do the things they do. In an educational setting, it is used to understand why students act in particular ways. The results of this type of analysis are used to build an educational strategy that supports the student’s needs and gives them the best quality of life. If you are interested in this field, you might consider pursuing a Master’s in Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis Emphasis, such as the one offered by George Mason University.

Language and Cultural Diversity

Some educational institutions serve culturally diverse communities where a variety of languages are spoken. Since students are more likely to thrive and succeed when supported by professionals with whom they can communicate effectively, there is a need for multilingual special education professionals.

For those who would enjoy honing and combining their teaching and linguistic skill sets, a Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners Graduate Program, such as the one George Washington University offers, would be a smart option to consider.

Postsecondary Transition

Young adults with educational challenges are often particularly in need of support when deciding which path to pursue after completing their secondary education. This is a time when professionals in the special education field can play a pivotal role, assisting with the transition into adulthood, and perhaps paving the way to a future career.

One way to obtain the qualifications needed to help special needs students navigate their postsecondary options is by completing a program such as theGraduate Certificate in Transition Special Education available through George Washington University.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 school-age children have been diagnosed with autism in the U.S. That creates a significant need for educational resources and professionals who can support young people with an autism spectrum disorder. These students have specific educational needs and challenges, and professionals with expertise in this area can help ensure programs are designed to best meet those needs while also accommodating the individual learning styles of the children. 

Completion of a program focusing solely on this area such as the Master of Science in Special Education – Autism Spectrum Disorder offered by Saint Joseph’s University can provide an excellent foundation for this career path.

Support for Hearing-impaired Students 

Without the proper support and resources, students who are deaf or have profound hearing loss may struggle academically, especially if they also have educational challenges. It’s a relatively rare combination for professionals with special education training to also be able to communicate with hearing-impaired students.

To achieve these qualifications, you could consider a program such as the Master of Science in Education – Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing PK-12 certification offered by Saint Joseph’s University.

Learn more about specializations offered in our favorite online degree and certification programs.