Autism has come to Sesame Street.
This is big news.
There are many schools of thought about what causes autism: Is it preventable? Is it treatable? Is it an epidemic?
These are all important conversations to have, but when someone is a parent of a child with autism (or any other unique need), there are two desires that stand out: parents want their child to be happy and they want their child to be accepted.
Almost seven years ago, I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. She had a gentle, calm demeanor. She was (is) perfect. At three and a half months old, she rolled on her side, right on track with the ‘developmental milestone’ chart. That was the last and only milestone she hit on time. She did not sit up until she was 11 months old, she did not crawl until she was 17 months old, she didn’t walk until she was 20 months old and she still is not talking much (I get a little teary-eyed about this).
At 18 months, I started getting concerning looks from the pediatrician when we would go for our check up. There were mutterings of needing to send her to speech and occupational therapy. Her pediatrician would ask questions like, ‘Does she make eye contact? Did she have a regression in language? Does she have a hard time with transitions?’
These are all very scary questions for a parent to be asked when it was not that long ago their child was a brand new baby in their arms. After many, many assessments—including physical, psychological, genetic, an MRI, an EEG, lumbar puncture—the doctors have ruled out autism for my little one, but I have walked through very similar emotions of parents who have children with autism and any other unique need, and it is not easy.
But one thing that has been such a light to me is awareness and acceptance. It is beautiful. Awareness that everyone is unique, beautiful and amazing. When I saw on the news that Sesame Street was introducing it’s newest character Julia, and that she had autism, I burst into tears because acceptance is the antidote to the anxiety that permeates all parents of children with autism and any unique needs. It is the balm of healing on our tired hearts. It is exactly what we need! When I clicked on the link for the Amazing Song, I got choked up again.
All children and their parents just want to be loved and accepted.
Sometimes our struggles lead us to help others. This is the case for the man behind the character ‘Julia’ on Sesame Street. He has a blog called Autism Daddy and he has a son with autism. He has worked for Sesame Street for 21 years. After years of being willing and eager to create an autism initiative on Sesame Street, it has finally come to fruition. Not only will they feature the new character, Julia, but they have started three initiatives to support parents and create awareness and acceptance.
Here are the three initiatives described by ‘Autism Daddy’ from his blog:
1. They are going to create resources for parents to use with their children. Many children with autism and other ‘unique needs’ are greatly assisted by visual schedules and pictures to help them remember what to do in a variety of environments, as well as express themselves. For example, one of the resources is a story about Elmo that features a lesson on brushing teeth.
2. They are going to focus on educating ‘neurotypical’ children about what it’s like to have autism. Children are such sponges and they absorb whatever is around them. If they are taught that we should accept and love everyone, no matter what they look like, act like—they will do that.
3. They are going to reach out to support parents of kids with or without autism—to build a greater sense of community, and discuss the joys and struggles of raising a child with autism. Sesame Street sees the importance of having support for their families and are planning to reach out with links and chatting platforms on their website.
Thank you Sesame Street for bringing awareness and love to this delicate, necessary conversation.
~See more at Autism Daddy.
Author: Wendy Haley
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: YouTube still