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Does Hollywood get it right? 11 Special needs movies to watch

Looking for some great special needs videos or books? Have you tried going to your local library or gone online and been overwhelmed with the thousands of books written on the subject?  We try and make your life a bit easier with the Special Needs Book & Video Series. The Special Needs Book & Video Series will be comprised of  5 posts:
  1. 12 amazing special needs stories you need to read!
  2. Does Hollywood get it right? 11 Special needs movies to watch
  3. 12 special needs novels that will touch your heart
  4. The top 15 Special Needs Documentaries
  5. Explaining special needs to your child 15 great children's books
Enjoy and if you have any items you think should be included please include them in the comment section!

Does Hollywood get it right? 11 Special needs movies to watch

Hollywood has produced some great movies over the years. When it comes to individuals with special needs sometimes they get it right and sometimes they are way off the mark. Below are 11 movies about or involving individuals with special needs. Tell us what you think: Does Hollywood do a good job of portraying individuals with special needs?


Football coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) sees a young mentally challenged young man walk by his team's practice everyday and begins to take an interest in him. Jones invites him to help out at practice and basically be part of the team. Soon the young man, James Robert Kennedy aka Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.), begins to have an influence on all those around him. Radio even goes to school by helping out Coach Jones and going to classes himself. Some people in the small South Carolina town do not approve of Radio and begin to make steps to have him examined by professionals and possibly move him out of town. The ending, in which we see the actual Radio, still cheering his team on 26 years later, will melt the most cynical hearts.

Temple Grandin

Biopic of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who overcame the limitations imposed on her by her condition to become an expert in the field of animal husbandry. She developed an interest in cattle early in life while spending time at her Aunt and Uncle's ranch. She did not speak until age four and had difficulty right through high school, mostly in dealing with people. Her mother was very supportive as were some of her teachers. She is noted for creating her 'hug box', widely recognized today as a way of relieving stress and her humane design for the treatment of cattle in processing plants, even winning an award from PETA. Today, she is a professor at Colorado State University.

Front of the Class

The triumphant life story of Brad Cohen, a man who overcomes incredible obstacles to become a gifted teacher. When he was growing up, Brad started making funny noises - all the time. Only Brad - and his supportive mother - knew he couldn't control it. He was teased, misunderstood and punished for disrupting class. By the time he is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, Brad had learned to hate school. When an understanding school principal offers encouragement, amazingly Brad decides to become a teacher - the teacher he never had. But who in their right mind would put someone with Tourette's in front of the class? After 24 schools turned him down, Brad refused to give up. Discover what happens when one school finally gives him a chance.

Rain Man

Rain Man is the kind of touching drama that Oscars are made for-and, sure enough, the film took Academy honors for best picture, director, screenplay, and actor (Dustin Hoffman) in 1988. Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic savant whose late father has left him $3 million in a trust. This gets the attention of his materialistic younger brother, a hot-shot LA car dealer named Charlie (Tom Cruise) who wasn't even aware of Raymond's existence until he read his estranged father's will. Charlie picks up Raymond and takes him on a cross-country journey that becomes a voyage of discovery for Charlie, and, perhaps, for Raymond, too. What began as an unsentimental journey for the Babbitt brothers becomes much more than the distance between two places- it's a connection between two vastly different people and a poignant, profound and powerful film.

I am Sam

A mentally challenged man fighting to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Sam (Sean Penn), who has the mental age of 7, wipes down tables at a Los Angeles Starbucks and takes good care of his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning), who was left with him shortly after birth by a homeless woman. Sam has gotten by just fine with a little help from his friends, including his eccentric neighbor and a lovable group of similarly challenged friends, but a series of misunderstandings leaves Sam fighting to get Lucy back from the state. Sam's lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), is an overly ambitious woman whose life is soon transformed by proximity to Sam's brimming humanity.


Adam is not a typical romantic comedy. The death of his father leaves Adam living alone in the apartment they shared. When a friendly young woman named Beth moves into the building, Adam doesn't know how to express his attraction-he has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism that prevents common human empathy. So he invites her into his apartment to experience his homemade planetarium and takes her to the park in the middle of the night to look at raccoons. Despite herself, Beth is intrigued. At first she's baffled by Adam, but when she learns the source of his awkwardness, she starts to appreciate Adam's honesty and lack of guile--particularly as family secrets start to emerge when her father is indicted for financial misdoings.

The Other Sister

When Carla Tate, now a young woman, is 'graduated' out of the training school where she has resided for many years because she is mentally challenged, her hope is that she will be accepted for all that she can now do for herself. But Carla's family is wealthy which permits her mother, already blinded to her daughter's rather high-functioning abilities, to try and provide for Carla beyond her needs or desires, bringing forth the inevitable confrontations... for what Carla may lack in mental ability she certainly makes up for in her insistence on being independent, even to living in her own apartment. But if this isn't enough, into the mix comes a young man, equally challenged mentally, who moves Carla beyond anyone's control...

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

David (Dermot Mulroney) and Norah (Gretchen Mol) are the perfect couple. Unable to get his wife to the hospital during a blizzard, David delivers their twins himself. But he recognizes right away that the second, a baby girl has Down Syndrome. Instead of sharing the news with his wife after she wakes up, he makes the decision that he will tell her that only their son survived. He orders his nurse Caroline (Emily Watson) to take his daughter to an institution.  Norah, who never got to say goodbye to her baby, has never been able to get closure and is in a constant state of grieving. David lives with the guilt of what he has done, but doesn't really think he did anything wrong. Even their son feels that something is missing from his life. Caroline, who had always been a loner, winds up having the most complete life. Defying David's orders, she takes the little girl, Phoebe, and runs away with her to raise the girl as her own.

Of Mice & Men

John Steinbeck’s classic comes magnificently to life in this beautiful and stirring film starring Oscar nominees John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.  Best friends Lennie (Malkovich) and George (Sinise) find themselves unemployed in Depression-era California, unable to keep jobs because of Lennie’s childlike mentality. But once they get hired at the Tyler Ranch, they enjoy a brief period of stability – until their supervisor’s wife (Sherilyn Fenn) becomes the victim of Lennie’s compassion, forcing George to make a compassionate decision of his own. There's not a false note or bad performance in the entire film; as Malkovich and Sinise possess the compassionate chemistry that makes George and Lennie inseparable until the tragic, inevitable final scene.

Forrest Gump

Forrest, Forrest Gump is a simple man with little brain activity but good intentions. He struggles through childhood with his best and only friend Jenny. His 'mama' teaches him the ways of life and leaves him to choose his destiny. Forrest joins the army for service in Vietnam, finding new friends called Dan and Bubba, he wins medals, starts a ping-pong craze, creates a famous shrimp fishing fleet, inspires people to jog, create the smiley, write bumper stickers and songs, donating to people and meeting the president several times. However this is all irrelevant to Forrest who can only think of his childhood sweetheart Jenny. Who has messed up her life. Although in the end all he wants to prove is that anyone can love anyone.

Phoebe in Wonderland

Phoebe in Wonderland is a family drama about Phoebe Lichten (Elle Fanning), who lives with two author-parents, Hillary (Felicity Huffman) and Peter (Bill Pullman), who encourage her imagination. Phoebe yearns to participate in the school’s Alice in Wonderland performance, headed by the mysteriously alluring drama teacher, Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson), who also champions Phoebe’s strange digressions with the onset of Tourette's syndrome. The film traces Phoebe’s imagination as it becomes increasingly obsessive, and the viewer is privy to both Phoebe’s internalized interpretation of what is happening to her and her behaviors from an exterior perspective.

My Left Foot

Adapted from Brown's own autobiography for this spirited piece, Daniel Day-Lewis won a much-deserved Oscar for his wily, passionate performance as Irish artist and writer Christy Brown, whose cerebral palsy kept him confined to a wheelchair. Christy Brown is a spastic quadriplegic born to a large, poor Irish family. His mother, Mrs Brown, recognizes the intelligence and humanity in the lad everyone else regards as a vegetable. Eventually, Christy matures into a cantankerous writer who uses his only functional limb, his left foot, to write with.

WRITTEN ON November 14, 2014 BY:


Mingy Dworcan has a knack for finding the best stuff online. She has
volunteered and worked at Friendship Circle of Michigan and at several
other Friendship Circles around the country.