Julia is here.
Julia, a muppet with autism, has found her way to Sesame Street and she is gonna chase the clouds away for many young children with autism. I am so incredibly grateful that Sesame Street has brought Julia to life, but, selfishly, I wish Julia would have come about a decade sooner. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that FINALLY autism has become so mainstream that adults, kids and now muppets with autism are showing up on your television screen, on the big screen and on Sesame Street, I just wish for my son and the kids who came before him, Julia would have come sooner.
Julia is going to do amazing things for young children with autism. A-mazing things. Kids are going to be more aware, more accepting and hopefully, more kind. The end result will be more, not less. And for many years, autism was perceived as "less" and I think that is why ten years ago, we weren’t ready for more…or for Julia. Ten years ago, differences of any kind, weren’t as accepted as they are today.
Sure people with autism and their families have been waiting for Julia and for the world to see what they have always known, that people with autism are more like “us” than they are different. Autistic individuals may process information differently than most of us, they may not communicate in the same way and their behaviors may be different, but, in the end they want to be loved and accepted just like all of “us” and just like every muppet on Sesame Street.
Had Julia come when Ryan was younger, he might be more willing to take risks socially now that he is in high school because the children in his preschool and elementary school watching Sesame Street would be aware that different did not mean less. They would understand that when Ryan didn’t respond to his name right away it didn’t mean he wasn’t listening or he didn’t care what they had to say, it just meant he needed more time to respond.
Those kids would have grown up understanding the reason Ryan had to be taken out of class before the fire drills was not because he was “weird”, but, because the noise was too much for his body to handle. Julia would have helped Ryan’s classmates understand his sensitivity to noises, his fabulous way of communicating through scripts and his desire to be included and accepted in the classroom, on the playground and in the cafeteria regardless of his limited eye contact when his friends approached him.
If Julia would have taught Ryan’s classmates HOW to interact with a classmate with autism, all of the burden of RYAN knowing how to interact with THEM wouldn’t have fallen on his tiny 5 year old shoulders. Ten years of awareness and acceptance would have made a big difference. Ryan’s classmates would have had ten years to understand autism, to understand him and to accept him, just the way he is. Oh Julia, I love that you showed up, I just really wish it would have been sooner.
Now that Ryan is in HS he struggles to interact socially and because he is “not much of a risk taker”, he doesn’t make many efforts to try. And because there were no muppets on Sesame Street with autism for the past ten years, his classmates don’t have a clue how to interact with him. This lack of awareness and education leads to isolation, it leads to depression, it leads to accepting that being alone is better than risking a social catastrophe.
If Julia would have showed up on Sesame Street ten years ago, Ryan might not feel so ashamed of the word "Autism", because kids would have been taught autism may be different, but it is not less and he would believe that too.
Julia could have really made a difference for Ryan. I hope that for the parents just hearing the words, “Your child has autism” they realize that there is a tiny yellow character with orange hair living on Sesame Street who is going to help them and their child pave the way to awareness and acceptance. She has arrived just in time for your child and his friends.
Thank you Sesame Street. I know that maybe the time wasn’t right ten years ago and maybe “we” weren’t ready for a little girl who flapped her hands when she got excited or had meltdowns when a siren went zipping past Sesame Street, but, we are ready now. Thank you for giving her to all of us. We really, really need her.