Prominent characters in recent television programs such as Max Braverman in “Parenthood” (Asperger’s syndrome), Artie Abrams (paraplegic) and Becky Jackson (Down syndrome) in “Glee,” and Tyrion Lannister (dwarfism) in Game of Thrones, have brought characters (and sometimes actors) with special needs into the mainstream.
Such is the case with the new ABC comedy, “Speechless” about a family who moves frequently trying to find the best school for J.J., a boy with cerebral palsy. The creator of the program, Scott Silveri, drew inspiration from his childhood, growing up in a family with a brother who had special needs.
“It’s actually gotten easier and easier the father away I’ve gotten from my actual experience,” Silveri said during a break in production on the Fox Studios lot. “There are things that are sacrosanct, things that I’m determined to portray, but around the margins it’s served us well to move away from my exact experience.”
The series hired an expert, Richard Ellenson, the chief executive of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, to serve as a consultant. Ellenson’s son, Thomas, also has cerebral palsy.
“What the show is doing is being brave and honest and using humor to avoid pussyfooting around. It’s allowing us to start conversations that people are uncomfortable starting,” he said.
The comedy features Minnie Driver as the mother and Micah Fowler (who also has cerebral palsy) as her son J.J.
“I’ve been around a lot of people with special needs, but not on a daily basis,” Driver said of working with Fowler. “I hate using the word ‘inspiration’ because it just feels patronizing, but Micah is inspiring.”
“Speechless” airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET. (Photo credit: Nicole Wilder/ABC)