I guess it was bound to happen. Sesame Street introduces a new character who has autism as part of a larger campaign, and anti-vaccine advocates are up in arms. But, unsurprisingly, when you look at the specific issues they have, there’s just not much there.
Sesame Street is normalizing Autism! Heck yeah it is! And it should. The world has changed significantly since when children diagnosed with any neurological condition were separated from their peers in school. My son, for example attends a preschool in which he is the only non-neurotypical kid there. He is completely mainstreamed with minimal support, and ideally will continue when he enters public school.
Anything that makes it so that children learn from the start to treat those who process information differently with respect and an open mind is good, and frankly benefits other children without a diagnosis who may need an extra moment, may dislike excessive noise, or may prefer other minor changes in conversation and teaching that benefit children with autism.
The Muppet is a Girl; Autistics are Boys! Sure, there are more males diagnosed with autism than females, but there are two reasons Sesame Street was smart to make this muppet female:
- Because more boys are diagnosed than girls. If anyone is less likely to see themselves represented on tv or movies, it’s girls diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. A female muppet named Julia gives an often overlooked demographic a chance to see themselves on screen just like everyone else.
- Sesame Street has a serious glut of male muppets. There are over 1,500 Sesame Street characters if you include every puppet possible, but of the twelve central characters on the Sesame Street games website, ten are male. The last thing the Street needs is another boy neighbor.
The Muppet isn’t Autistic Enough! As is repeatedly pointed out, Julia can talk, and apparently that doesn’t make her autism serious enough to be representative of ASD. First of all, this is like saying that showing a blind character or a child in a wheelchair isn’t inclusive of people with physical disabilities because some children are deaf or use other assistive devices.
Besides, Julia may be able to talk, but she also exhibits several other traits indicative of autism, so dismissing her as a character by focusing on only one of those traits is especially inappropriate.
Secondly, there is a saying “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” It is not a single unified set of behaviors and traits, so thinking of the autism spectrum as a line with “normalish” on one end and “profoundly impaired” on the other is grossly misunderstanding it (not to mention minimizing). As someone who is not autistic, I found the illustrated explanation of ASD at Graphic Explanations most helpful. The blog is written by a graphic artist diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition, and doesn’t boil down well to snippets, but here is one:
Some people may have strengths in some areas and difficulties with others. Some people may be severely impaired by some demands, but competent in others. Looking at traits this way may seem like an apparently contradictory mixture of strengths and weaknesses, but this unevenness is part of the nature of autism.
Saying the muppet must be non-verbal, engage in hand-flapping, etc. in order to count as autistic leaves out a whole lot of people with ASD. Saying that making a verbal muppet leaves out all people who are non-verbal with autism, minimizes those who are non-verbal by ignoring their other traits.
Sesame Street Is Part of the Big-Pharma/Big-Vaccine Cover Up! One more time: vaccines don’t cause autism. GMOs don’t cause autism. And once again, in case someone wasn’t paying attention: vaccines don’t cause autism!
Stop Acting Like Autism is okay! Yeah, yeah, Autism is a tragic vaccine injury and you are protecting your child. We heard you. But, here’s the thing.
My son with autism is not your cautionary tale. His condition is not something you should bandy about or use to fear-monger. He is not a tragedy or a worst case scenario. He is not an excuse to seek inadequate health care for your family. He. Is. My. Child.
My beautiful, amazing child.
We are not looking for a cure, because he doesn’t need one. What he needs is a culture that will allow him to reach his potential the same way it does neurotypical kids, and if a muppet helps bring that about in some small way, then it’s a win. So just stop already.
All images are from the Sesame Street We’re All Amazing online story book.