Autistic kids often struggle with stigma in their families, in their schools — and just about everywhere. Some advocates even say they are more at risk of bullying. But where to begin turning perceptions of the disorder around and explaining it to other kids?
“Sesame Street” has decided to take a stab at it. On Wednesday, the franchise introduced a new character in an online story: Julia, who has autism.
“More than 20 years ago, my beautiful son received the diagnosis of autism, and my world changed instantly and profoundly,” Leslie Kimmerman, the story’s author, wrote on the “Sesame Street” website. “I knew nothing about autism, and it seemed that those around me — even the professionals — didn’t know much either. Today, happily, that has changed.”
In the story, called “We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3,” Elmo’s friend Julia meets Abby and Elmo explains why Julia might behave in unexpected ways, including not making eye contact and being startled by noises others might not notice.
“Elmo’s daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism,” Elmo explains. “So she does things a little differently. Sometimes Elmo talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times.”
Julia’s introduction is part of an initiative called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.”
“Developed with input from parents, people who serve the autism community, and people with autism, ‘See Amazing in All Children’ offers families ways to overcome common challenges and simplify everyday activities,” the show wrote on its website. “At the same time, the project fosters an affirming narrative around autism for all families and kids.”
“Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied,” Jeanette Betancourt, the franchise’s senior vice president of U.S. social impact, told 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.”