Care Coordination Family Engagement Systems and Standards Insights
April 28, 2016

Ten Award-Winning Films About Kids with Special Needs

By: Ling Woo Liu

Open Heart (2012, documentary, 54 min) is about eight Rwandan kids who must leave their families and embark on a life-or-death journey to have heart surgery 2,500 miles away in Sudan. The film underlines the dire lack of affordable health care in the region: there is only one hospital on the continent that performs free, life-saving heart surgeries. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short. Watch the trailer.
photo source: Open Heart website


Smile, Pinki (2008, documentary, 39 min) profiles a poor girl from rural India who is ostracized and forbidden to attend school because of her cleft lip. Her life is transformed by a special program that offers free cleft lip and palate surgeries. The film won the Academy Award for best documentary short. Watch the full film.
photo source: Smile Train


Darius Goes West (2007, documentary, 1 hr, 32 min) introduces Darius Weems, a teenager who lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and his road trip from Athens, Georgia, to Los Angeles to raise money to find a cure for his disease, and to ask MTV to customize his wheelchair on its show Pimp My Ride. The film won awards at film festivals across the US. Watch the trailer.
photo source: Darius Goes West website


Blindsight (2006, documentary, 1 hr, 44 min) follows six blind Tibetan teenagers on their quest to climb the 23,000 foot Lhakpa-Ri peak of Mount Everest. In their daily lives, the teens must endure scorn from fellow villagers who think that they are cursed. The film won the American Film Institute’s audience award for best documentary feature. Watch the trailer.
photo source: Blindsight website


My Flesh and Blood (2003, documentary, 1 hr, 23 min) walks us through a year in the life of the extraordinary Tom family of Fairfield, CA. Single mother Susan Tom has adopted 11 children with challenging disabilities or conditions, including two girls born without legs, a boy with an excruciating skin condition, and a girl who was severely burned as a baby. The film received the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on HBO. Watch the trailer.
photo source: IMDB


Sound and Fury (2000, documentary, 1 hr, 30 min) introduces us to multiple generations of the Artinian family, all affected by deafness, and the decision two of the families must face over giving their children hearing aids that would help them hear, but also compromise their deaf identity. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. Watch the trailer.
photo source: Wikipedia


Forrest Gump (1994, rom-com-drama, 2 hrs, 22 min) is one of the most commercially successful films in Hollywood history. The film takes viewers through the life of a developmentally delayed boy from Alabama who goes on to witness or influence several pivotal moments in American history. The film won Academy Awards for best picture, best director (Robert Zemeckis), best actor (Tom Hanks), and more. Rent the film.
photo source: Wikimedia


What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, drama, 1 hr, 57 min) introduces us to a young grocery store clerk (played by Johnny Depp) who must care for his mother and his developmentally disabled brother (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). At the age of 19, DiCaprio received his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in this role. Rent the film.
photo source: Netflix


Educating Peter (1992, documentary, 29 min) centers on Peter Gwazdauskas, a third-grade student with Down syndrome who attends school with typically developing students. Produced shortly after the passage of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Educating Peter won the Academy Award for best documentary short. In 2001, the film’s director, Gerardine Wurzburg, produced a sequel to the film, Graduating Peter (1 hr, 14min). Watch the full film.
photo source: IMDB


Mask (1985, drama, 1 hr, 59 min) is based on the true story of a boy named Rocky Dennis (played by Eric Stoltz) who suffered from a rare condition that causes facial disfigurement. Both Stoltz and Cher, who played Dennis’ mother, received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in the film. Rent the film.
photo source: IMDB