He's an accomplished actor. He has autism. His castmates usually never find out.

For actor Mickey Rowe, off-stage is where the real performance happens.

"Until I learned otherwise, I thought everybody was like me."

Photo by Mickey Rowe. Used with permission.


Mickey Rowe is an accomplished actor. He's performed Shakespeare, musicals, and children's theater all across America. He ran a successful nonprofit theater company in Seattle.

And he is autistic.

"There is a tension between everything that I am and everything that might be conventional for an actor," Rowe writes on the theater blog HowlRound. "This is the same tension that makes incredible theatre."

From the very beginning, acting felt like the natural outgrowth of Rowe's everyday lived experience.

Photo by Mickey Rowe. Used with permission.

"Autistics use scripts every day," Rowe writes. "We use scripting for daily situations that we can predict the outcome of, and stick to those scripts."

"I would guess that there are 10,000 neurotypical roles for every one neurodiverse role, so if I only played disabled characters I just wouldn't be able to work professionally as an actor."

Navigating the difficult, fiercely competitive world of acting is trying even for seasoned, veteran performers. But it can be next to impossible for someone like Rowe when the ability to make small talk can be as important as talent, and coming across as "weird" or "different" can be the difference between landing or not landing a role.

"I ... have not been open about my disability at most of the places I have worked," Rowe admitted when I spoke with him via email. "I have just secretly made the accommodations that I needed."

Every time he gets a new job, Rowe has to decide whether to reveal his identity to his castmates and collaborators.

Photo by Mickey Rowe. Used with permission.

Most of the time, he chooses not to.

"I think on a personal level for me it is much better to keep these things secret, to stay in the closet about them. But to change the culture and create more accessibility and inclusivity, as well as remove stigmas, people with invisible disabilities have to come out in careful, tactful ways," Rowe wrote in his email.

There are precious few disabled characters on stage and on screen. Thankfully, there's change on the horizon.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," which features an autistic protagonist, just cleaned up at the 2015 Tony Awards.


Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

Putting a "neurodiverse" character front and center in a major, critically acclaimed Broadway show is a huge step forward. But the character in "Curious Incident" was played by a non-autistic actor, as is the case in most plays and films where characters with disabilities and other disorders are played by non-disabled/"neurotypical" actors.

Fortunately for Rowe, his ability to hide his autism allows him to play more traditional neurotypical roles.


Photo by Mickey Rowe. Used with permission.

"I would guess that there are 10,000 neurotypical roles for every one neurodiverse role, so if I only played disabled characters I just wouldn't be able to work professionally as an actor. Which is fine. It's beautiful getting to play every different character."

Unfortunately, many actors with autism and physical or other disabilities — especially those who are unable to disguise them — are not so lucky.

For his part, Rowe is jazzed about the success of "Curious Incident," and he's hopeful.

Photo by Mickey Rowe. Used with permission.

"I think that the show has really done a lot to open people's minds to people who think differently," Rowe wrote to me. "I think 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' has done beyond a beautiful job with what they have. It's a bold and inspiring decision to produce a story narrated by an autistic character. I can't wait to see where the show and the narrative of Autism Spectrum Disorder goes in the future."

Hopefully the continued success of "Curious Incident" will create not only more room for diverse characters like Christopher on stage but more opportunities for actors like Mickey as well.

Not just to perform. But to perform openly. Without fear. As their true, whole selves.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

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