Photo: The Miracle Project
Elaine couldn't have been more proud when she discovered that one of her long-time students was going to be a guest star on the hit TV show, The Good Doctor. For anyone mentor, it's a wonderful feeling to see students succeed in life - and land something as big as an ABC hit series. What's even more special about Elaine's student is that they live with autism spectrum disorder.
Elaine started a non-profit arts program
Elaine Hall is the founder of a non-profit organization called The Miracle Project. The Miracle Project is a non-profit, performing arts program for people who have autism. Founded in 2004, her organization uses groundbreaking methods to help people living with autism as well as other disability to learn communication and social skills all while building self-esteem through theater and expressive arts. She specializes in helping all children of all different abilities to grow psychologically, improving their spirits in original musicals created and performed by the team. The art program has even earned two Emmy awards in the HBO documentary, "Autism: The Musical".
Elaine uses creativity and performing arts to reach people with autism
Elaine's goal was to grow and evolve characters who have autism as well as other disabilities. She wanted to the world to see and understand people who live with this condition and to portray them more in media and the performing arts. The more people understand what's unique and special about autism, the more they can find peace and a sense of belonging to their communities.
TV and film has portrayed more favorable images of autistic people in recent years
She never dreamed that one of her students would end up on the big screen. Nowadays, there are more and more shows and movies that portray autistic characters in a positive light. Now, there's Atypical, The Good Doctor, and Speechless - they all feature a main character who has autism or some other developmental disability.
Elaine was inspired after adopting her son who had autism
Elaine was inspired to start her organization because of her son. She adopted her son from a Russian orphanage when he was just a toddler. After he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, conventional treatments didn't seem to help him. Elaine developed her own methods to help him express himself and communicate better. She used creative dramatics, movement, and music to reach her son. It worked. Her little boy, who once flapped his arms and spun, throwing tantrums for hours on end, is now a respectful, calm, and confident young man. Though her now 23-year-old son is severely disabled and remains speechless, he has been wildly successful in many aspects of his life. He has been a semi-professional model, even appearing on the stage with big names such as Jack Black, Conan O'Brien, and Stephen Stills! He is also a part-time employee at an organic garden, and he recently spoke at a United Nations meeting using his iPad to text his speech to the audience.
Elaine urges production companies to actively hire more autistic actors
Elaine believes it's been long overdue that TV and film portray people like her son, using actors who have autism too. The rise in autistic protagonists in the media is encouraging, but Elaine urges the public and industry to take this further. She wants us to hire more kids and youth who have autism. They need opportunities too!
Many times, Elaine has heard excuses from the film industry for why autistic actors don't get hired very often. They often say that the pool of autistic actors isn't strong enough, so they end up hiring people without the disorder to fill these autistic roles.
For one, there is immense discrimination of people who have disabilities, including autistic people. There is an 80% unemployment rate of people with autism, but there are so many who want to work. Not only are most of these individuals willing to work, but they are ready and capable of doing very high-quality work too. Secondly, production companies often misunderstand what it would be like to hire an autistic actor. Many are afraid that an autistic actor might have a "meltdown" on the set. However, Elaine argues that autistic people probably have less on-set meltdowns than the star actors and actresses we know and love from feature TV and film. Elaine has seen her fair share of meltdowns in her acting class but feels that she has seen more tantrums from non-autistic stars than any of her students in her program.
Elaine advocates that there are many reasons to hire an autistic actor
Elaine points out that there are many pros for production companies to hire an autistic actor. For one, if there is an autistic role to be played, someone who lives with the condition can be a valuable resource and can provide insight that the crew otherwise wouldn't have access to. No one knows autism like a person who lives with it or a family who loves and cares for them.
On training Coby Bird
Elaine has high hopes for her students in The Miracle Project. She advocates for autistic actors tirelessly and celebrates the successes of several autistic students who have incredible talent. She's trained people like Coby Bird, who at the young age of 15 was chosen to co-star on The Good Doctor, which is a hit new TV show on ABC. He's also previously been on ABC's Speechless. Elaine has also trained other students who have performed at high profile places like The White House, Carnegie Hall, The United Nations, and the show Parenthood. Elaine emphasizes that her students are not only talented for having a disability, but they are talented and perform high-quality work equal to those who don't have a disability too.
Ever watched the Good Doctor? It's about an autistic young adult who shines in his role as a budding surgeon. This new ABC hit series is a portrayal of a young autistic genius who confronts prejudice as he pursues his life dream of becoming a surgeon. Quirky, smart, creative, and sensitive, Dr. Shaun Murphy navigates the grueling training of surgical residency as his team learns to accept his differences and welcome him as a colleague. Though he is difficult for people to understand at first, the show does a beautiful job of revealing the true nature of Dr. Murphy's golden-hearted character beneath the miscommunications typical of many autistic people. It's a wonderful show that makes you appreciate the brilliance and abilities that autistic people have, and understand that the things that make them different aren't so different after all.