Elmo’s new friend Julia made her first appearance yesterday as part of an initiative to promote understanding and empathy towards the widely misunderstood disorder.
Introducing a new element to their Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children program, the iconic children’s show debuted a new digital storybook yesterday centered around its newest character, Julia. Julia has autism and does not interact socially in the same way as Elmo and his friend Abby.
The program is designed to show children—and perhaps the adults that watch or read along with them—that the way in which those on the autism spectrum interact should not be ridiculed or dismissed, but embraced. Because autism is a disorder that directly affects the way one interacts socially, it is not often viewed through a particularly empathetic lens. Disorders and misfirings of the mind are mainly perceived as their exterior results, and not the interior maladies that cause them.
Although autism awareness is at an all-time high, its social ramifications still remain vastly misunderstood by many. Julia, as is common with autism, does not adhere to established social norms. She sees the world differently, and her unique view should be acknowledged as something separate—it’s a distinction that needs to be made. There is a difference here, and to simply ignore it does little to enhance our understanding.
Sesame Street is aiming to educate children on how to use knowledge, empathy and kindness as tools in accepting and embracing deviations in normality. At first, Abby does not like Julia because she doesn’t understand her—the way Julia acts is not something Abby is used to. Elmo, acting as educator and mediator, explains to Abby that “Julia has Autism, so she does things a little differently.”
Autism is a disorder that can be debilitating in some cases, and is nearly always isolating to some degree. 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States, it’s prevalence simply cannot be overstated. Sesame Street—as it has done for nearly 50 years— is attempting to increase the next generation’s level of understanding and awareness; they’re choosing to celebrate our differences rather than use them as dividing lines. The See Amazing in All Children initiative is a wonderful program that should be celebrated and will hopefully be emulated.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the Editor-in-chief of The Overgrown.