Mainstream media influences us in ways we aren’t even conscious of at times; The characters portrayed in television shows, movies and even book characters can help shape not only our minds as individuals but also as social beings. Including characters with special needs in these storylines is something that plays a key role in helping people to understand all the different kinds of people that exist in this world. There have been some powerful and influential characters that have helped familiarize the public with people who have special needs over the years and it’s time to give a few of them some extra attention:
Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump, 1994)
Possibly the most well-known and cherished movie character not only with special needs, but in general is Forrest Gump - a man with an IDD that inspires even the most strong-willed hearts to love a little harder, be a little kinder to your neighbors and simply do the right thing.
During this fictional life, we get to witness a man who falls in love, gets his heart broken, a man who teaches people how to love and how to accept people for who they are, and most importantly we get to watch him thrive when he’s given the opportunities to do great things.
Gump showed us that you can try everything you want to in life himself by becoming an army private, a landscaper, a CEO and even a shrimp boat captain. Oh and let’s not forget his cross-country trek (also through the lincoln memorial reflecting pool in D.C. - classic) on foot.
Forrest was picked on, was misunderstood and even disliked by some for just being himself. Despite all of this, he overcame everything life threw his way and did it with patience, (sometimes) grace and very very wise words to live by:
“Life’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Nemo: (Finding Nemo, 2003)
Nope, cartoons aren’t excluded!
The ever-loved Nemo is an adorable clownfish with a fin that was damaged in an attack when he was still an egg. This fin causes him to be a little bit weaker of a swimmer than some of the other fish, but he doesn’t let that get in his way of wonder and joy.
Despite his fin, he makes it all the way across the ocean, meeting other fish along the way who have dealt with similar obstacles and some, much worse. A couple of those characters include Dory, a fun-loving Surgeonfish with short term memory loss and Gill, a Moorish Idol fish with scars and a heavily damaged right fin. With a little friendly push and some words of empowerment from these friends who understand Nemo’s struggle, they all remind him that their disabilities don’t hold them back unless they choose to let them do so. So, perhaps they deserve an honorable mention for helping to develop Nemo’s character throughout this story.
Either way, this heartwarming tale of a cross-ocean journey helped to show us that even when we have physical limitations, that doesn’t mean we have to limit our adventures in life:
“Just keep swimming!”
Daredevil: (Marvel Comics, 1964)
Otherwise known as Matt Murdock, Daredevil was not born with any special needs but loses his vision after an accident with radioactive material (read more on his full character story here).
Murdock/Daredevil encounters a rough transitional phase between going from the seeing world to being blind and finds it hard to cope and really hone in on his other senses until he meets a man named Stick. Stick guides him through this period of his life and shows him that there’s much more to life than the ability to see - we do have 4 other senses after all.
Though Murdock isn’t as revered in a loveable sense like the previous two characters, he’s still a powerful symbol of moving forward in life when you’re dealt a hand you weren’t prepared for.
His quality of life did not worsen after his accident, and on that same token, instead of giving up, he decided to give back through dealing a healthy heaping of justice around town and earning a superhero status:
“Big world… Not all of it is sunshine and flowers”
Trevor Conklin: (The Revised Fundamentals of Caring, Algonquin Books 2012)
This is a “dealer’s choice” nominee, not that the rest of this post hasn’t been my own opinion, but this specific character is really a subtle kind of influential character in my eyes.
This book, as well as the movie adaptation, is a charming tale of a boy named Trevor Conklin with Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy (click through to learn a little more about this disease) and his caretaker Ben Benjamin as they set out on a road trip to meet Trevor’s biological father who has been out of the picture for quite some time. This disease is progressive and causes muscle degeneration, leaving the life expectancy of the individual to be shortened in turn.
Trevor copes with his DMD and overall life through sarcasm, dark humor and pranks that tend to create a stressful environment for his caretakers; He’s direct, slightly vulgar at times and is generally disagreeable for the first part of the story. When he realizes that Ben is different from the other caretakers, he decides to accept Ben’s role in his life and doesn’t try quite as hard to get rid of him as he had the previous caretakers. That being said, he still pulls pranks that include, but aren’t limited to, faking his own death, fake choking and other terrifying antics.
Trevor uses his humor to make light of his situation but he has real fears and real emotions in regards to what he is able and unable to do. You see a range of emotions from guarding himself to being very real and relatable as a young adult when he finds a love interest along the way. It’s important to have characters that feel relatable in every way and he is one of them which is why I believe he is a powerful one.
You get to witness a growth in him as a person through a lot of frustration and struggling along the way on this road trip. I’ll refrain from spoiling much because I highly encourage everyone to take this journey, be it with the book or movie, since Trevor is a great symbol for accepting your fears, dealing with them head on and relying on other people to help get you across the finish line.
“I'll never stop caring. But the thing about caring is, it's inconvenient. Sometimes you've got to give when it makes no sense to at all. Sometimes you've got to give until it hurts.”
Enroll Your Loved One at the Achievement Center of Texas
One thing all of these characters have in common is learning to understand themselves better and growing as individuals (and fish). These characters are just fictional examples of perseverance and choosing to live a positive life while surrounding themselves with the right crowd. The Achievement Center provides opportunities to foster this same kind of growth to all people with special needs; we have classes for all age levels, ability levels and behavioral goals. This also includes both individual settings and group settings.
Donate to Our Center
Click through here if you would like to donate anything you can today to help provide the opportunities mentioned above. As a non-profit daycare, we wouldn’t have the ability to create these wonderful learning environments without people like you. If you have an interest in volunteering your time instead (or alongside) of donating, click here to check out what we’re looking for in a volunteer!
We thank you for helping to provide the care, attention and funding to help shape the next powerful characters in the real world.
About the Author
Allison Vickers is a recent graduate of UNT and has an affinity for all things related to dogs. A data analyst by day, writer by night, Allison thrives off of giving back to the communities she is a part of. Though her writing skills may be slightly above sub-par, she loves learning and educating people about how to love a little harder.