Spectrum Neurodiversity, a documentary from producer Scott Steindorff that begins production in October, will focus on conditions such as dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and autism as examples of diversity in the human condition rather than disorders that must be “cured.”
Per Steindorff — producer of The Lincoln Lawyer and the upcoming series Station Eleven for HBO Max and Paramount TV — the doc “will clear up misinformation and highlight new treatments and research on autism and people on the spectrum.” To do that, he’s partnering with British psychologist, professor and leading autism researcher Simon Baron Cohen (cousin of Sacha) who will host the doc and interview experts, researchers and those living with autism.
Steindorff started developing the idea after being diagnosed as an adult with an autism spectrum condition. As a child, he struggled with speech, motor, social and learning skills. “I have a form of autism called Asperger’s. I am high functioning and have been fortunate in my life to have experienced a fabulous career and raised three amazing children. Having worked hard to understand my condition I realize many in Hollywood in powerful positions may be on the spectrum. I hope many will recognize and include the spectrum in their diversity outreach,” Steindorff tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that he believes he’s not alone. “So many actors, writers, designers and directors are on the spectrum, possessing extraordinary vision and talent. We need to offer employment and nurture those with this condition in Hollywood and include this in all diversity programs. You can’t always see this condition from the outside.”
In a THR cover story, Chris Rock revealed that he sought out a diagnosis after a friend suggested that he may have Asperger’s. Following a battery of cognitive tests, Rock was diagnosed with nonverbal learning disorder, or NVLD. Comedian Hannah Gadsby also mined her own autism diagnosis in the critically acclaimed Douglas.
The filmmakers have lined up participation from science writer Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity; Dr. Daniel Geschwind, professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA; Dr. Staci Bilbo, Haley Family professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University; Dr. Connie Kasari, founding member of the Center for Autism Research and Treatment at UCLA; addiction expert, speaker and best-selling author Dr. Gabor Maté; Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading trauma researcher and professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University; Elizabeth Kunreuther, a clinical instructor at the University of North Carolina Wakebrook Addiction Treatment Center and co-author of Drinking, Drug Use and Addiction in the Autism Community; author and speaker John Elder Robison; professor Will Mandy from University College London; and autistic music prodigy Derek Paravicini.
Others set to participate include Adam Ockelford, professor of music and the director of applied musical research at the University of Roehampton in London; Dr. Éric Fombonne, a clinical scientist at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research; Sara Seager, a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Dr. Lawrence Fung, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center.
Stone Village Television is financing the documentary with Steindorff set to direct and produce. Steindorff, who also served as executive producer of Netflix doc series Firechasers and Jon Favreau’s Chef, serves as a professor of practice at the School of Art and Film at Arizona State University, where he teaches expression of emotions in art and authentic storytelling.
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.