Sesame Street has been long known for using puppets to bridge the divide between those who are “differently-abled” and those who are “normal”. They have had children on there with Down Syndrome, and even had a puppet with HIV. They have through the years pushed to teach kids to focus on what’s in common, instead of their differences, and to destigmatize issues such as HIV.
Sesame Street now has a new initiative: “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” which includes an iPad app and various online resources for parents with kids who have autism. The new puppet they are unveiling is a preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends.
“She has some behaviors like not looking at you directly in the eye, she’s a little more sensitive to noises and lights but when she comes together with Abby and Elmo, she’s shares not only these challenges but also what she shares in common,” Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told ABC News. Julia has not yet made it to tv yet, but she is on the website for Sesame Street, and she is part of their Autism initiative online.
While some have voiced the preference for a male character, the fact is boys with Autism outnumber girls about four to one. Too often the challenges for girls with Autism go unnoticed, or attributed to other things. With the new statistics saying every 1 in 68 children is now diagnosed with Autism, understanding and promoting awareness of it is truly needed. Autistic children are 5 times more likely to be bullied than “normal” children. The stigma of the condition is what needs to change.
My son is one of those 68 children who was diagnosed with Autism. I’m supporting Sesame Street’s efforts 100%, as this hits home for me. Awareness will change how people interact with Autistic children, and will help promote understanding. Instead of fearing an Autistic child, people will learn to relate and connect, and understand that they really are just children. They’re just children with different challenges, that’s all.
With the help of Sesame Street’s new initiative, we can look back in a few years and Julia will be just like one of the regular characters to us instead of “the puppet with Autism”.
For more information on Sesame Street’s initiative and where you can find help on their website: Sesame Street Autism Initiative