By Trevor Pacelli
I have never respected Sesame Street as much as I do now that they've added Julia to the cast. Over the years of watching the show in my early days and laughing at the skits as an adult while pulling them up on YouTube, I saw it as just a really good children's program that was popular enough to last nearly fifty years. But now, after seeing all the hard work and research they put into creating their first autistic muppet, as explained in the above video from a 60 Minutes feature, I can see that they are so much more than just a really good children's program.
I have been watching the interviews and "making of" features surrounding Julia, and all I saw was a tremendous leap forward in the autism community's public normalization. They said plenty about how portraying autism in a children's program in a way they can understand was a challenge, as autism is different with so many people. They even addressed it in the episode that debuted Julia, but emphasized the commonalities of autism: a delay in response, a lack of eye contact, speech delay, peculiar hand motions, a unique way of doing things, and a sensitivity to noise.
What I like best is in the way Julia interacts with her friends Abby and Elmo, they each know that she does things in a more "Julia" kind of way, but that doesn't mean they can't be friends with her. They just find common ground with their interests. Abby and Julia both love to blow bubbles, so that's how they play together. Elmo and Julia both love to sing, so that's how they play together.
As a bonus, the Sesame Street producers made the wise decision to make their autistic muppet a girl, teaching kids how there are girls on the autism spectrum, despite statistics proving it's more common with boys.
There are so many children's programs out there that are so drab, creepy, and demeaning of their audience's intelligence. They speak down to kids and assume that are only capable of noticing bright colors and silly noises. Not only is it detrimental to their development, but it annoys the parents who have to watch it with them as well. But not Sesame Street. While browsing through YouTube, I was so amazed at how funny their skits are, and how they keep making strides to keep the Sesame Street brand modern with the changing times; they care just as much about educating the parents as their kids! I lately just saw that the show has tackled other difficult issues that other children's shows would not have the courage to discuss, including racism, death, and even 9/11. Now they've done something wonderful that I can't recall any other children's programs attempting, and I hope that this leads to many other fantastic opportunities to normalize autism in the minds of our youth.
For a book that helps children understand autism in their classmates, read my sister's book, The Kindergarten Adventures of Amazing Grace: What in the World is Autism?
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.