A long time in the making, the iconic children’s TV show, Sesame Street, has finally debuted a new, very special, member of the Muppet family. Julia, a little girl with Autism is making waves in social media outlets, but not for the reasons you might think. Though adding a special needs child to the program is noteworthy, the real story is how Sesame Street is representing autism. Sesame Street isn’t simply creating awareness, but is actually trying to change the perception people (children specifically) have about what autism really is. Unlike other disorders, autism is not as ‘visible,’ which makes it largely misunderstood or misrepresented.
What makes Julia’s character so unique in comparison to other characters with autism is that her disorder is subtly represented. This is largely due to the fact that Elmo is minimalizing her actions as simply “differences,” rather than abnormalities. During the web series, the focus is hardly on Julia at all, but is actually centered on how other characters perceive and adapt to her differences. Elmo explains that she just “does things a little differently.” Elmo also relates to Julia and explains that she loves the same things other children love: she flaps her hands when she’s excited, she likes to play with blocks and prefers to line them up.
Interestingly, Elmo and his pals discuss Julia’s autism in a very forthcoming manner and in a sincere language that is simple and informal. The program is not trying to force children (or adults) to navigate the complexity of the disorder, but instead it aims to highlight the commonalities among all children.
In this newly created character, Sesame Street genuinely represents its catchphrase “to help all children grow smarter, stronger and kinder.” The program achieves this by working to eliminate misconceptions or other related stigmas affixed to the word autism. With autism discussions growing nationwide, it is important that autism is portrayed in an accurate and authentic manner, so that with growing awareness comes a greater understanding.