Our generation, and the generation before us, spent a lot of our childhood watching Sesame Street. We all have fond memories of learning to count with Elmo and his friends. Well, Sesame Street is welcoming a new friend to the neighborhood. Her name is Julia, and she has autism.
This is amazing for a number of reasons. First, one in 68 children has autism, and yet it is so deeply stigmatized in society, and hardly understood. And the fact that this character is a girl is helping make even further strides because girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders than boys. This is for a number of reasons, many listed in the article linked. Namely, girls are more likely to hide the fact that something is wrong.
With the introduction of Julia on Sesame Street, young autistic kids will have someone like them to watch on TV. Parents with autistic children will learn how better to communicate with their kids. Kids who have friends with autism will learn how to play with them better, and be patient with them. The benefits of this are absolutely endless.
Recently, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children was released online, helping tell the story of kids with autism in a song that’s easy for everyone to understand. It teaches the idea that even though some kids are a little bit different, we all just want to feel happy and have friends that care for us and understand us. This is huge. As someone with an autistic sibling, it’s great to see these positive images of autism around for young kids to see. It’s about time we started erasing the stigma that autism presents and see these kids for what they are: kids. They’re kids who just want to be like any other kid, live, have fun, and make friends.
Julia’s first story “We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3” is already online, and fosters empathy for autistic children, showing that they’re just kids who do things a little bit differently than the rest of us. Their idea is the correct one, that familiarity increases compassion, and that compassion decreases the number of autistic kids being bullied in schools because they’re misunderstood.
So welcome to the neighborhood, Julia! I hope that with your addition to Sesame Street, we all can learn to be a little bit more compassionate, and learn that kids with autism are just like the rest of us. They are not broken, they are not sick, they do not need to be fixed. They just do things a little bit differently.