Parents of children with autism are celebrating after Sesame Street announced that it would be introducing a new character with the condition.
Here, Danielle Duggins from blog Someone’s Mum tells us why the addition of new Muppet Julia will make a huge difference for her and her son, who is on the autistic spectrum…
This week, Sesame Street, a beloved children’s show that has been running for nearly half a century, introduced a new character, Julia.
Julia is a little girl with orange hair, a favourite rabbit than she rarely puts down – and autism.
Julia doesn’t do things in quite the same way as other children. She sees the world a little differently.
When Big Bird speaks to her, she seems to ignore him. Julia stims – she bounces when she should be playing tag and the other children wonder why. When a siren goes off, she cannot cope. A friend helps her take a break and relax again. Big Bird learns that she does not dislike him, she just sometimes ‘does things more slowly’.
As the mother of a child with autism, this fills me with hope. Sesame Street has already been invaluable to my son – it is one of his favourite programmes and its commitment to teaching about emotional and social wellbeing is exceptional.
Already my son has learned about emotions, he has learned about being flexible, he has learned what a ‘strategy’ is and how he can use them to help him manage when he can’t cope. And now Sesame Street may help him obtain something even more valuable – acceptance.
My son stims frequently and flaps when he is excited and happy – but this scares the children at nursery and I have been called in several times to discuss how to approach it. Some autism parents feel a great pressure to stop their child’s stimming because they feel it alienates them from their peers.
When other children speak to my son, he does not answer. Often, they lose interest – or they do not understand his strange responses – and the spark of friendship that may have developed is extinguished before it can grow.
When there are unexpected noises, like church bells, my boy screams and screams. The other children sometimes don’t like to be near him, because they cannot always predict when he will get upset. But if characters like Julia were more prevalent on television, if those children could see the caring and understanding way that the characters on Sesame Street deal with Julia – it could have a huge impact on my son’s future.
It may mean the other children embrace his stimming, and he never needs to suppress it. It may mean that a spark of friendship can grow, that his future will not be a lonely one. It could help children and adults alike see more than someone who is different, to see beyond things that are strange, to see a human being more clearly. This goes beyond autism awareness and promotes kindness and acceptance for all, and that benefits all of us, not just families like mine.
So, thank you Sesame Street, thank you – for showing the world that some people have autism, that some people are a little different, and that is okay.