It’s the place where everything’s A-OK, the air is sweet, and there are friendly neighbours – like Julia. She’s the newest Sesame Street character, and she happens to have autism.
Sesame Street has always been known for being a pioneer in breaking down barriers, in playful way. It’s educated our children not only in their ABCs and 123s, but in being kind and inclusive.
Sesame Workshop’s latest initiative is all about seeing the amazing in all children. It’s aimed at kids in the two to five age bracket, and includes a storybook, starring Julia, who has autism. Author Leslie Kimmelman says her son was diagnosed with autism 20 years ago, and she’s seen a huge shift in attitudes and awareness.
“There has been much progress understanding autism. But it’s still a puzzle, and every child is affected differently. You’ve probably heard the saying “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what’s the most important thing for people to know? We’re all different in some way or another—that’s what makes the world an interesting place. And equally, all of us in our own way are amazing!”
Sesame Street and Autism includes a free downloadable app with video and story cards, all geared towards helping children with autism work through the things that have to do each day. Things which can often be stressful, like brushing teeth or bedtime.
“Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied,” Dr Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of US Social Impact, tells People. “And with one in 68 children having autism, that’s a lot of bullying. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences. Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group.”
The site also includes great resources for parents, through educational videos.
The initiative also helps children who have friends with autism better understand their mates.
“There are certain behaviours, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children to understand how to interact with their autistic peers. It makes children more comfortable and therefor more inclusive,” says Dr Betancourt.
Julia has been created as a digital character because, “families with autistic children tend to gravitate toward digital content,” Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of Global Impacts and Philanthropy, explains to People. “We want parents and children to understand that autism isn’t an uncomfortable topic.”
If you’re searching for more information on autism, browse through our previous articles:
- The app helping parents detect autism signs in babies
- Research into why more Aussie children are being diagnosed with autism
- The Australian-first shopping centre quiet room for children with autism
- The study debunking the idea that vaccination causes autism
(via People, images courtesy Sesame Workshop)