editorial | Neurodiverse actors like me deserve a place on stage and screen

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When I was ten, I wrote a letter to Tom Hanks. As a lifelong artist, I was moved by his rendition of Forrest Gump and Woody from “Toy Story”. To my surprise, the legendary actor answered me!

Tom Hanks isn’t the only actor to play a disabled person. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as the Oscar-winning film “Rain Man” was a watershed moment when it came to the portrayal of people with autism.

But too often, these neurotypical actors are the only ones representing my community on screen.

According to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, less than 1% of television characters have a disability and of these, only 5% are portrayed by actors with disabilities. And in the workforce in general, Department of Labor Statistics illustrate that young Americans with disabilities are employed at a much lower rate than Americans without disabilities.

It is not because we lack skill or talent. For example, I have perfect pitch, which means I can emulate a specific note just by hearing it, and synesthesia where I see the notes with colors. Even though I was diagnosed with autism when I was two and didn’t speak until I was 4, I now sing and perform on stage with the theater company. EPIC Players. I played “Seymour” in Little Shop of Horrors and “Prince Ferdinand” in The Tempest. And I even landed a role in the off-Broadway play Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon. But throughout my life, I had to fight to fit into certain spaces, because of how I was perceived.

As a child, my parents fought to enroll me in a regular school, but when I arrived, I made friends and flourished. In high school, I faced resistance when I wanted to play the cello on stage with the rest of my orchestra because people thought I might be acting weird, but I played as well as I could. anyone else.

All I wanted was to be seen with other students, to play alongside them like me.

All disabled and neurodiverse artists need an opportunity. There is another emblematic artist from my childhood who means a lot to me: Dan Akroyd. I saw him in Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters and like many people, I loved his characters. But what most people didn’t know at the time was that Dan Akroyd has Asperger’s and Tourette’s Syndrome. Generations have known him as a beloved actor and loved him even more when they learned of these diagnoses. But to me, Dan Akroyd is just proof that all we need is a chance.

It’s important to me that neurotypical, non-disabled audiences see us play, so they can see what we can do.

It is important to me that young people with autism can see us play. For them to see that they too can be great.

Ben Rosloff is an actor and member of EPIC Players.

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