Representing neurodiversity in the entertainment industry 

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How many TV shows do you see where 82% of the production crew identifies as living with a disability? What about a coming-of-age series telling the story of two neurodiverse teens navigating high school? Claire Murphy, second-semester physiology and neurobiology and psychology double major, stars as Ashley Blanchard in “What’s the Rule.” 

Directed by Justin Janoson, a sixth-semester film studies major at Quinnipiac University, the series follows the story of twins Sam and Jack Schneider adjusting to high school. Sam is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Jack with autism. Sam and Jack overcome challenges that develop with teachers and classmates while being neurodiverse. Murphy’s character, Ashley Blanchard, is Sam’s peer ambassador in the show. Despite growing up with an autistic brother and having good intentions at first, Murphy’s character forms inaccurate biases and creates stereotypes on the show.  

“I was always vaguely aware of neurodiversity,” Murphy said. “I knew what autism and ADHD were, but I had no idea how they can so dramatically affect someone’s life. Specifically, Kayleigh Jayne, who plays Jack, really opened my eyes to the world of neurodiversity.  She is autistic and she would often joke that Jack, quite literally, is her and it feels like someone is documenting her life.  She has felt unwelcome and rejected by her classmates [and] teachers and administrators have assumed that she is incapable of taking hard classes or joining certain clubs or sports.” 

According to Murphy, playing Ashley allowed her to become more aware of neurodiversity; for example, in understanding how to approach people who are ignorant about people diagnosed with ADHD. Murphy added that her character wasn’t a villain in the show, she was negligent to the people around her. Janoson felt it was important for the lead characters to be female because he wanted to show female representation in the neurodiverse community.  

“Growing up I didn’t have that representation as somebody that is disabled, as somebody with ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc., ” Janoson said. “I also didn’t have the representation of being Jewish that wasn’t a stereotype, so to have the leads be disabled Jews was very important to me. I want to make sure that people in general just don’t feel like they’re alone in their struggles, whether it be disabled or being Jewish or being any of the subjects we talk about.” 

Janoson said that there is often injustice for people with disabilities when it comes to jobs. During President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, he supported people with disabilities rights as workers, but he didn’t explain the amount people with disabilities had to be paid.  

“The goal is to be the first for-profit disability-focused group,” Janoson said. “In my mind, I have to prove something to people. I want to prove that hiring disabled people who work at your company doesn’t have to be charity, because we live in a country where organizations like Goodwill pay some of their disabled employees $0.22 an hour, which is insane and shouldn’t be allowed in this country.” 

Janoson said anyone can to donate to the TV series with Patreon. The pilot episode of the show will premiere at the beginning of April for Autism Awareness Month. The show will be available on YouTube and Amazon Prime, according to Janoson. 

“The series allows for people to reflect on their assumptions and understanding of autism and ADHD,” Murphy said.  “Additionally, watching the series is a wonderful way to support neurodivergent actors and filmmakers. Everyone who portrays a certain disability on-screen has that disability in real life, which does not always occur in the film industry.” 

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