Neurodiverse Review: pioneers for disabled-led art projects

Neurodiverse, autistic and disabled-led art projects are a minority in the theatre industry, and often go overlooked. As a result, themes of mental health and disability are pushed to the background, at the expense of many talented artists or creators. Indeed, it is true that there is media out there that explores these themes — but they are, oftentimes, created by well-meaning, non-disabled artists that only further misunderstandings about the community. Take Sia’s movie ‘Music’, for instance, which not only casts a neurotypical actress as an autistic character, but grossly misrepresents autistic experience as well. Neurodiverse Review is here to tackle this issue. Created by and for disabled artists, Neurodiverse Review are pioneers for better representation of the community in the industry.

Before July 2022, when ND Review was established, there were no review sites dedicated to disabled-led work. Now, there is. All reviewers working for the site are either neurodiverse, autistic, or disabled. What’s more, they only cover work led by their community. Such work does not have to be about disability — but the piece in question has to be led by neurodiverse, autistic, or disabled people. Furthermore, the site states, ‘We do not review work which is about disability by non-disabled artists’. This is unsurprising, given the misrepresentation and stigmatisation that has occurred in the industry by non-disabled artists. And whilst they may mean well, they often do more harm than good. ‘Nothing about us without us’, writes a reviewer for the site. 

Their first major project was the 75th Anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe. With over 3000 shows registered at the festival, and little over 5% being led by disabled artists, it was important for the reviewing platform to promote the work of these artists. ‘We feel it is our duty’, a reviewer writes, ‘to champion and highlight that small percentage and hope it’ll grow in future years’. Indeed, whilst there are no where near as many disabled-led art projects as there should be, I myself had the privilege of seeing a few at this year’s Fringe lineup. I was particularly impressed, for instance, by the festival’s neurodiverse comedy lineup, with standup performances about Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and OCD. For more information about the Fringe festival’s disabled-led art projects, check out NT Review’s review page here. 

Among other notable feats, the reviewing platform has established the first ever Neurodiverse Review Awards. The categories are as follows: ‘Actually Autistic Experience’, ‘ADHD Comedy Award’, ’Neurodiversity Representation’, ‘Outstanding Visually Impaired Creative’, ‘Birds of Paradise Exceptional Theatre’, ‘Birds of Paradise Emerging Artist’ and ‘DeafAction’. It is important to note the emphasis on actually good representation of the community, in order to avoid further misunderstanding and misrepresentation in future projects. As such, ND Review are paving the way for more accurate portrayals of their community in the media. 

The representation of disabled people in the media is misguided at best, and, frankly, insulting at its worst. ND Review are here to solve this, furthering better representation of their community in art projects around the country. Thanks to their pioneering work, we can finally hope for more accurate portrayals of neurodivergent, autistic and disabled experience in the industry. 

Featured image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

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