A new muppet has moved onto Sesame Street and her name is Julia. She has big green eyes, orange hair, a big smile...and Autism!
When I heard about Sesame Street's new initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, I was thrilled! I love the idea that a popular children's TV show is spreading awareness and about Autism. The initiative, available at autism.sesamestreet.org/consists of a collection of digital content created to educate families, caregivers, professionals (including SLPs!) and most importantly the children in their lives about autism.
The website shares what their initiative is about: "...1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That makes autism more prevalent than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined. [...] While the diagnosis is common, public understanding of autism is not. The lack of understanding around the condition contributes to discrimination, verbal abuse and even physical violence. A recent study reveals that children with autism are five times more likely to be bullied than their peers - treatment no child should endure. While the differences between people with autism and their peers may seem significant, children share something far more important: unique qualities and talents that make the world an interesting place."
I have worked in different capacities with children who have autism for a few years, at their homes and in their schools. While I have not witnessed any outright bullying of these children, I have observed them being excluded from their peer groups simply because their peers do not understand what autism is, why the child behaves differently than them and most importantly they don't know how to interact with the child.
What I absolutely love about all of the content on this website is that they have explained what autism is like from a child's point of view and the materials really emphasise all of the commonalities among children (whether they have autism or not) rather than focusing on the differences.
The website and app contains videos, an interactive storybook about Julia and digital story cards designed to make daily life tasks easier for families of children and with autism.
Julia is introduced in an interactive storybook entitled 'We're Amazing, 1, 2, 3!' We learn that Julia and Elmo have been friends since they were 'really little' and they love to play together. While on the swing set Elmo's pal Abbey Cadabby comes along. At first Abby thinks that Julia doesn't like her because Julia isn't talking or looking at her but our friend Elmo helps explain that sometimes Julia plays and interacts a little differently than they do. Throughout the story, Elmo explains in child friendly terms the things that make Julia special in a way that normalises the traits. Children with autism often have difficulties using and understanding language, and have hypersensitivities to sound which cause them to become upset, agitated or anxious in the presence of certain sounds that we may not even notice. Below, these traits are explained by Elmo!
In addition to talking about Julia's language difficulties and hypersensitivities to sounds, the story also brings up Julia's excellent memory, and her tendency for flapping ('She laughs and flaps her hands around and around. Flapping is what Julia does when she is excited. Elmo jumps up and down. Abby spins in a pirouette. That is what they do when they're excited.') Flapping is a type of 'stim' that children with autism might engage in as a way of regulating their nervous system when they are feeling excited, anxious, scared, or any other emotion of increased arousal.
The videos on the website are short and cover a variety of topics, telling the stories of children with autism, siblings of children with autism, parental roles, and how one family meets the unique needs of their child with autism. One of my favourite video tells the story of a special boy named Thomas.
Parents of children with autism will absolutely love the daily routine cards that are provided. You can watch your favourite Sesame Street characters perform daily routines step-by-step in fun animations or you can print out a pdf version to use offline.
If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews between the ages of 2 to 5, please share the story of Julia with them! 1 in 5 children being bullied because they have Autism is way too many. Knowledge is power and it's up to us to give children the power to understand that what makes someone different is what makes them special. Let's spread the word that all children are amazing!
And on that note, go get your child and watch the 'Amazing Song!'