Growing up one of my (as well as millions of others’) favorite educational programs was Sesame Street. They always managed to balance clean humor with teaching a good lesson, and they rarely talked down to their audience. Recently, I’ve learned two amazing things about the show, one of which is the topic of this blog. First, the previously anonymous man behind the blog “Autism Daddy” was revealed to work for Sesame Street! He’s even done voice work for the puppets and is the main force behind the new Sesame Street autism initiative, which I’ll get too momentarily. I highly suggest you check out Autism Daddy if you haven’t already!
As I mentioned, Sesame Street has been hard at work using their enormous platform to promote autism awareness across the world. They’ve even added a new character, Julia, to the show who has autism (her behavior implies Aspergers). Something you may notice right away is that yes, this new character is a girl, which is almost unheard of in today’s entertainment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, but the number is skewed between the sexes. 1 in 42 boys are on the spectrum, while that same number for girls is only 1 in 189. That’s the main reason why whenever a character with autism is portrayed in the media, they’re almost exclusively male.
So why was Julia introduced? What mission is Sesame Street hoping to accomplish with their newest program? Well, according to PBS, “‘The initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in all Children,’ provides educational tools in online and printed story books and as a free downloadable app that feature “Sesame Street” characters explaining to children how to interact with friends, like Julia, who have the neuro-developmental disorder.” It sounds to me like they are definitely serious about this, and from what I’ve seen of the materials they’ve released so far, it seems to be a resounding success. The other question many people are asking is, “why did they choose a girl?” While it is true that autism is more prevalent among boys, I actually really like the move. Sherrie Westin, the VP of Sesame Street, commented on this, and I couldn’t agree more. “We made sure she was a girl namely because autism is seen so much more often in boys,” she said. “We wanted to make it clear that girls can be on the spectrum, too… We’re trying to eliminate misconceptions, and a lot of people think that only boys have autism.”
I hope Sesame Street will continue to use their influence to help more people on the spectrum, but from their track record and what I’ve seen so far, I have nothing but confidence in them. Below is a picture of Julia with Abby and Elmo.