Sesame Street has been a part of teaching kids for nearly 50 years. From early on,
numbers, letters and manners have been broadcast through the TV into every child’s life.
But last week, the show took on a new challenge. Their new character, Julia, requires some extra teaching.
In the opening scene, Julia is painting with Elmo and Abby Cadabby. When Big Bird walks up and introduces himself, Julia does not respond. It hurts Big Bird’s feelings, and he thinks she doesn’t like him, but his friend Allen explains why she didn’t shake his hand.
Julia has autism.
Throughout the rest of the episode, other issues are brought to light. Julia plays differently, flaps her arms out of excitement and needs to take a break because she was upset by passing sirens.
Every time Julia needs something done differently, accommodations are made. Big Bird struggles with understanding at first, but once Julia brings him a flower, he realizes that they can all be friends and they all sing a song about playing together.
This. Is. So. Important.
Often, when kids see something different in another kid, their initial reaction is to ignore them, or worse, make fun of them.
Kids with autism have a hard-enough time adjusting without being pounded into the dirt. With extra sensitivity and difficulty picking up on social cues, it can be very hard for them to fit in.
It’s even harder when the other kids on the playground don’t know how to be patient and understanding.
Sesame Street is making great strides to bridge the gap between kids everywhere and help bring kids together.
They are making an effort that not many others have.
There are autism awareness advertisements all over television. Autism Speaks is great about keeping everyone up to date on autism statistics, but they don’t advocate for this type of acceptance and love.
Sesame Street did everything right, probably partly because the woman voicing Julia’s puppet, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. She was a major consultant while they were developing Julia’s character.
The impact of this will be undoubtedly insurmountable. Kids will see this and think of a kid at their school with autism. They will be able to see that all it takes is a few adjustments. They will see that not much is different.
They will see that autism does not define a person.
Sesame Street writer, Christine Ferarro, said something really beautiful in an interview with CNN.
“I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on Sesame Street who has autism, I would like her to be just Julia,” she said.