Do you want to learn more about people with Developmental Disabilities, rather than their conditions? Than this list of movies, books and TV is for you! This list was developed from suggestions made by Communitas staff & families!

When faced with staying indoors, what better time to explore new books, films and tv series to learn more about people with Developmental Disabilities?


Wonder, R.J. Palacio (2012)

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special Ed, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay (2015)

Mukhopadhyay crafts a proud, satiric style: the special ed student as literary troublemaker. For all of its comic effects, Plankton Dreams alerts readers to an alternative understanding of autism, an understanding that autistics themselves have been promoting for years. Frustrated by how most scientists investigate autism, Mukhopadhyay decides to investigate neurotypicality, treating his research subjects the way he himself was treated. Why shouldn’t the autist study the neurotypical? This artful parody of scientific endeavor salvages dignity from a dark place.

Normal Citizen, Normal Citizen I and Normal Citizen II, by Tom Brooks (Communitas Employee!)

Luke Rossettie is an average man with one exception: he has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of Autism. By the end of this book you will be asking yourself what IS the true definition of the word normal.

State Boys Rebellion, Michael D’Antonio (2004)

D’Antonio weaves together the story of a group of State Boys and the history of eugenics and human intelligence policies in the mid-20th century

The Lives They Left Behind, Darby Penney, Peter Stastny (2009)

Profiles of 10 individual patients whose suitcase contents proved intriguing (there were 427 bags total), referencing their institutional record-including histories and session notes-as well as some on-the-ground research.

Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel Simon (2003)

Beth is a spirited woman with developmental disabilities, who spends nearly every day riding the buses in Philadelphia. The drivers, a lively group, are her mentors; her fellow passengers are her community. When Beth asks her sister Rachel to accompany her on the buses for one year, they take a transcendent journey together that changes Rachel’s life in incredible ways and leads her to accept her sister at long last—teaching her to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Power Tools, David Hingsburger (2000)

Power Tools challenges the reader to constantly evaluate their use of power when serving people who have disabilities. It is at turns comfortable and at turns reassuring.

A Child Called It, David Pelzer (1995)

The Way I See It: A Personal Look At Autism And Aspergers, Temple Grandin  (2009)

Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson (1998)

Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs (2006)

Memoir of the author, the story of Burroughs’s bizarre childhood life after his mother, who had an obsession with Anne Sexton, sent him to live with her psychiatrist.

Dry: A Memoir, Augusten Burroughs (2004)

A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father, Augusten Burroughs (2008)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)

Mark Haddon’s bitterly funny debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a murder mystery of sorts–one told by an autistic version of Adrian Mole. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child’s quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers.

Lottery, Patricia Wood (2007)

Perry’s IQ is only 76, but he’s not stupid. His grandmother taught him everything he needs to know to survive.  Then his weekly Washington State Lottery ticket wins him 12 million dollars, and he finds he has more family than he knows what to do with. Peopled with characters both wicked and heroic who leap off the pages, Lottery is a deeply satisfying, gorgeously rendered novel about trust, loyalty, and what distinguishes us as capable.

The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon (2011)

A love story about two developmentally challenged people trying to escape from an institutional system that would keep them physically apart but could not diminish their love for each other

How to Be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism, Eileen Garvin (2010)

Eileen Garvin’s older sister, Margaret, was diagnosed with severe autism at age three. Growing up alongside Margaret wasn’t easy: Eileen often found herself in situations that were simultaneously awkward, hilarious, and heartbreaking. For example, losing a blue plastic hairbrush could leave Margaret inconsolable for hours, and a quiet Sunday Mass might provoke an outburst of laughter, swearing, or dancing.

The Horse Boy, Rupert Isaacson (2009)

An autobiographical book and a documentary feature film that follow the quest of Rupert Isaacson and his wife to find healing for their autistic son Rowan. After discovering that Rowan’s condition appears to be improved by contact with horses and other animals, the family leave their home in Texas on an arduous journey to seek help from the traditional shamans in Mongolia.

Autism Life Skills: From Communication and Safety to Self-Esteem and More – 10 Essentials Abilities Every Child Needs and Deserves to Learn, Chantal Sicile-Kira (2008)

From an award-winning author and advocate, Autism Life Skills presents a positive and empowering “bill of rights” for every person with autism, regardless of impairment level. With advice and reflections from autistic adults across the spectrum, as well as Sicile-Kira’s own experience as an advocate and parent of an autistic teen, the book covers these ten essential life skills.

Do? Be? Do? What to Teach and How to Teach People with Developmental Disabilities, David Hingsburger (1998)

No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement, Joseph Shapiro (1994)

An Investigative Reporter for NPR, Shapiro chronicles the struggle of those with disabilities and their families in securing basic civil rights for this population. Again, this is an emotional read that gives insight into the dedication and devotion of advocates for students to receive the right to a free, appropriate, public education

Christmas in Purgatory: A Photographic Essay on Mental Retardation, Burton Blatt & Fred Kaplan (1974)

A photo expose’ made by two journalists in 1966 who went into institutions for individuals with disabilities who had hidden cameras on their belt buckles. It is downloadable for free as an e-book and available for purchase from the University of Syracuse.

Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, Temple Grandin (1996)

Grandin writes from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person. She tells us how she managed to breach the boundaries of autism to function in the outside world. What emerges is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who gracefully bridges the gulf between her condition and our own while shedding light on our common identity.

Television Series

Atypical, Netflix Series

Atypical is a coming of age story that follows Sam, an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he searches for love and independence.

Born This Way, A&E Series

Honesty, humor and heart are at the center of this original documentary series, which highlights the outgoing personalities and amazing abilities of seven young adults born with Down Syndrome. Hour long episodes follow the Southern California residents as they pursue passions and dreams, explore friendships and romantic relationships, and generally defy society’s expectations. The series also allows the parents to talk about the joy their children bring to their family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible.

On Tour with Asperger’s Are Us. HBO Series

Challenging themselves to leave their comfort zones, Noah, Ethan, Jack and New Michael embark on their most ambitious venture yet: a six-week, multi-city journey from Boston to Los Angeles, along the way sharing their unique perspectives on life as an “Aspie” and the community they’ve found in performing together as a comedy troupe. As they travel in an old RV that often leaves them stranded, the four endure highs and lows, playing for alternately enthusiastic audiences and nearly empty houses.


The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

An adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak (22), a young man with Down Syndrome, runs away from the nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler by attending the wrestling school The Salt Water Redneck. Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (32), a small-time outlaw on the run, becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (28), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own, to join them on their journey

Wonder (2017)

This film is based on the bestselling novel of the same name, which tells the story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences caused by Treacher Collins syndrome who enters fifth grade and confronts the challenges of attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. 

Temple Grandin (2010)

American biographical drama film directed by Mick Jackson and starring Claire Danes as Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses.

Wretches & Jabberers (2009)

Two men with autism embark on a global quest to change prevailing attitudes about disability and intelligence.  Growing up, Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, were presumed “retarded” and excluded from normal schooling. Now able to communicate by tying, Thresher and Bissonnette put a new face on autism as they travel and meet others with autism in Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland.  This global buddy movie gives viewers an eye-opening perspective on autism, done with compassion and humor.

Riding the Bus with My Sister (2005)

See book title above for description

The Horse Boy (2009)

See book title above for description

Profoundly Normal (2003)

Donna Selby (Kirstie Alley) and Ricardo Thornton (Delroy Lindo) were two developmentally disabled children who were taken from their parents and institutionalized. Donna was angry and afraid; she hated the heavy medications, uncompassionate staff, and had difficulty coping. Then Donna met cheerful and optimistic Ricardo, who had a calming effect on her. Their friendship blossomed over 20 years. Then they were told that the institution was closing. Patients were re-assigned to other institutions, group homes and apartments.

Monica and David (2010)

The love story of two adults with Down syndrome and the family who strives to support their needs. Monica and David are blissfully in love and want what other adults have an independent life. Full of humor, romance and everyday family drama, the film uses intimate fly-on-the wall footage to reveal the complexity of their story. While Monica and David are capable beyond expectations, their parents, afraid of mainstream rejection of adults with intellectual disabilities, have trouble letting go.

Best Boy/Best Man, (1979/1999)

                  Academy Award®-winning, BEST BOY is a profoundly touching story of love, overwhelming courage, and human dignity.  In a style that is both sensitive and engaging, BEST BOY follows Philly Wohl, a cheerful and loveable 52-year old man who’s been mentally handicapped since birth and still lives with his parents.  Take the journey with Philly as he takes his first steps into the wider world, building a new life and relationships.  BEST MAN revisits Philly 20 years later and continues to tell his amazing story.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (2008)

A father separates his son from his twin sister at birth to prevent him and the mother from knowing she was born with Down syndrome.  Based on the novel by Kim Edwards.

How’s Your News? (2004)

Five out-going reporters with developmental and physical disabilities hit the road, traveling coast-to-coast in a hand-painted RV and interviewing everyone they meet. Follow the How’s Your News team as they explore hony-tonk bars in Nashville, alligator farms in Arkansas, the Grand Canyon and the wild streets of America’s cities and towns.  Unassuming, funny and genuine to the core, it’s not your typical news show.

Autism is a World, Documentary (2005)

This Oscar-nominated documentary is a collection of thoughts written by autistic 26-year old Sue Rubin who takes viewers on a poignant journey into her world to educate the public while empowering the autistic community toward their potential. “This is not my voice, but these are my words,” begins Rubin.

Gork! (2010)

Follow the life of Adam Terrill, a loud, charismatic, flag-twirling redhead with a complex mix of creative talents and developmental disabilities.  From his early years as a foster child, through high school and graduation, to his present placement in a group home in Iowa, the film explores the conflict, humor, hopes and frustrations that rise within his family.

For Once in my Life, PBS Independent Lens (2010)

Made up of 29 musicians and singers who all have severe mental and physical disabilities, the Spirit of Goodwill Band is a raucous home-away-from-home where members are free to display their talent, humor, and tenacity. For Once in My Life challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be disabled.

Autism, the Musical, HBO (2008)

Follows five autistic children as they work together to create and perform a live musical production.

Body and Soul: Diana and Kathy, PBS (2009)

The film Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy chronicles the lives of two of the country’s most remarkable advocates for people with disabilities. Diana Braun, who has Down syndrome, and Kathy Conour, who has cerebral palsy, met three decades ago and vowed to fight to live independent lives. Fearful of being shut away in a nursing home or forced into a state-run institution, Diana and Kathy broke the rules, escaped the system, and modeled a grand experiment in independent living.

Freedom Machines, PBS/POV

An unprecedented look at disability in the age of technology, presenting intimate stories of people ages 8-93, whose talents and independence are being unleashed by access to modern, enabling technologies. Nearly twenty years after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the film reflects on the gaps between its promise and the realities for our largest minority group – 54,000,000 American with disabilities. Whether mainstream tools or extraordinary inventions such as stair-climbing wheelchairs, Freedom Machines reveals the power of technology to change lives.