I heard about it months before seeing it come to life. Sesame Street was going to create a character with autism that would hopefully be a recurring gig, and if the stars rightly align, a permanent SS cast member. Meet Julia, a little red-headed girl with autism. Julia has already appeared in "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children," an initiative by Sesame Workshop. It did so well, they decided to take the next step and muppetize Julia as an actual character on the show. Julia's puppeteer is Stacey Gordon, a mother of a son with autism.
60 Minutes on CBS had a segment that ran on March 19th to introduce Julia. They visited with the cast as they filmed the debut episode and spoke with the writers and Stacey. They talked about how huge it would be for children to be exposed to a character with autism on tv prior to meeting kids with autism in the classroom. Maybe watching Julia on Sesame Street would make meeting a real kid with autism less frightening. Kids (and all people, really) are afraid of what they don't understand. Watching Big Bird, Elmo, and Abby Cadabby befriend Julia and learn how interact with her and play with her could help lay a foundation for normalization of autism.
Maybe watching Julia on Sesame Street 1-3 years prior to entering preschool or kindergarten will help kids be better prepared when they meet a peer with autism in their community. At the playground. In Sunday School. In preschool. On the kindergarten playground at recess. Maybe understanding autism before meeting someone who has autism will destigmatize the child(ren) they will eventually meet. Maybe destigmatization will lead to compassion and empathy, and away from bullying and poking fun of kids for their different behavior.
What if the kids at school that made fun of my son for scripting and acting out a lightsaber fight had already seen somewhere else during their formative years that just because someone plays differently doesn't mean it's bad, or wrong, or weird, or freakish.
The chances of kids having the opportunity to know other kids with autism are getting bigger and bigger as the population ratio gets smaller and smaller. It used to be 1 in 500 kids would be diagnosed with autism. Then it shrunk to 1 in 250, then 1 in 100, now down to 1 in 68 - and likely realistically even less. It would be foolish for parents and educators not to educate their own children on autism. Educate them on what it is, how it manifests itself so uniquely in every life it affects, how there's nothing to be afraid of.
There are a lot of things in the world to be upset about, to fear, to be downright angry about, to cause complaining and crying. But this? Not this. This is a victory. This is one more baby step towards the middle of the grand awareness arena for which we all fight. I'm sure there will be frustrations over how autism is portrayed and how the characters react to Julia. But what I see is that people in the "powers that be", the "higher-ups" are trying. They are educating themselves and doing what they can right now as they are able to educate the next generation. For that, I thank you. Thank you, Sesame Street. Thank you for making me cry.
Really. Thanks a lot.