Commentary: Hollywood has a long road to disability inclusion. My experience shows it’s possible

By Kayla Cromer for The LA Times

In “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” which premiered on Freeform in January 2020, I play a girl with autism, Matilda, coming of age in high school with some, shall we say, complicated family dynamics. The series creator and my fellow actor on the show, Josh Thomas, built a story that features a neurodiverse cast and explores themes of acceptance, kinship, adolescence, grief, romance and sexuality, and ultimately what it means to be a complicated human in an equally complicated world.

When I first sat down for a table read with the whole cast of “EGBO,” as the first person with autism spectrum disorder to play a lead character with autism on American television, I found support, love and inspiration, building real chemistry even before hitting the set. It helps that the atmosphere around the show encourages us to bring our whole selves to work: I am able to share my personal experiences and interests with my castmates. When I enter the studio, it’s like seeing family. It’s the best experience of my working life.

This is not to say the journey to inclusion is easy. Growing up with autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia, I’ve never known easy. When I tried to check a Harry Potter book out of the school library as a child, the librarian refused, saying I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. When I started acting, I was an accomplished master of mimicking neurotypical people to fit in — masking myself to avoid the labels and stereotypes that are a constant for people with autism.

Even now, playing a groundbreaking character in a TV series that practices acceptance of differences, I must face the fact that women with disabilities, especially those with autism, are rarely represented in mainstream media. As Josh commented in a recent panel interview with the Autism Society of America, there are currently no other TV shows with autistic girls. None.

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