Putting a high-profile actor in a role where they are asked to portray a character with special needs is nothing new and has been taking place for quite some time. What we should be wondering is, why? Why not cast the part to someone who understands every aspect of the role?

Television and movie casting has improved immensely over the last ten years in regards to this very issue. There are several actors and actresses who line the screens and have special needs - some make it well known while others tend to keep it a little quieter. Either way we appreciate them all the same! Acting is a tough gig to begin with so let’s take a look at some of the best actors and actresses with special needs we see on our screens today:


Lauren is a crowd-favourite actress with Down Syndrome - About one in every 700 children are born with Down Syndrome each year making it the most common chromosomal condition in the United States.

Her biggest role so far has been starring on the television show Glee as a cheerleader and one of the few people who can go toe-to-toe with the leading “bad guy” of the show played by Jane Lynch.

In addition to this breakout role for Potter, her and co-star Lynch align with the mission to end the use of the “R-word.”


Jamie is another actress who has Down Syndrome, most commonly known for her role on the spooky, one-day-to-be cult classic t.v. series,  American Horror Story.

Brewer has worked on three of the seasons for this horror anthology and has really excelled in giving us some good chills and creepy vibes through playing a clairvoyant, a witch and a ventriloquist’s doll. Her roles aren’t focused solely on her Down Syndrome, which is amazing. It’s a necessity to start breaking the stereotypes and myths involved with people with special needs.

On that same token, during the first season Brewer was featured, AHS tackled some of the issues that can arise in families with special needs characters - though they chose to highlight some of the darker ones,  as hard as it can be to watch it is important to create awareness of (rare) situations such as verbal abuse.


Tim Burton is a special case here - he’s not ON screen but he may as well be as we see his personality in all of his films. He was diagnosed later in life with Asperger's.

Some of the qualities associated with this form of autism include:

  • limited or inappropriate social interactions
    • "robotic" or repetitive speech
    • challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
    • tendency to discuss self rather than others
    • inability to understand social/emotional issues or non-literal phrases
    • lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
    • obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
    • one-sided conversations
    • awkward movements and/or mannerisms