Yesterday morning I woke up to the news of Julia- the new autistic character on Sesame Street and I lapped up all the news about it, all excited like a child in a candy store.
My son has no interest in the show, I’ve tried but his apparent lack of language comprehension makes it difficult for him to follow any show that has conversations so he walks away. Still this news makes me happy and hopeful.
This show is an American icon. Even after half a century it continues to be relevant. Almost every child grows up on a generous helping of Sesame Street and it’s characters are probably every kid’s first set of friends. So, when a show with such a huge outreach decides to feature a new character after a decade and that happens to be autistic, it gives the cause of Autism awareness a much needed boost.
The Autism community has always insisted how important acceptance and inclusion is. This is a step in that direction. And it starts where it matters the most – at the beginning; with the kids . The idea of inclusion has to be imbibed in kids so that they can grow up into a more compassionate and understanding adults and we can finally have a generation that celebrates uniqueness rather than ridicule it. For someone on the autism spectrum , interaction with other children will be their 1st experience of how the world is going to treat them and so this initiative from Sesame Street really matters . It’s going to help kids appreciate the fact that it’s ok to be different and people with different abilities can be as much fun as anyone else if we understand them.
The introductory show will have Julia hesitating to shake hands with the crew. The show goes on to explain why she was not being impolite and how there can be other effective ways to communicate with her. Another episode shows how the muppet Abbey figures out ways to have fun with Julia.
These are small but effective ways to push the point across into those little impressionable minds that are going to be the community that our autistic kids will be a part of.
Inspite of the fact that boys are nearly 5 times more likely to have autism than girls, interestingly, Sesame Street decided to bring in Julia-a girl on the Autism spectrum. This is commendable because it sheds much wanted light on Autism in girls.
Critics are already complaining about typecasting Autism through Julia. However, as we all know, they could have introduced thousands of muppets and still not be able to represent Autism in its entirety. So, As of now I’m content with the hyperactive, stimming and socially anxious Julia with funny orange hair hopping around the Sesame streets with her friends. I welcome her with open arms and I hope that this will bring in a new understanding of Autism as parents sit next to their little ones and enjoy the show that matters.