When I was saving money for university, I worked as a day-camp counselor for years every summer doing everything from swimming to arts and crafts to dodge ball with kids of all ages. One camper named Lisa wasn’t in my group of kids, but she always came up to me with a big, warm smile. She didn’t say much but I knew she was different than the other kids; she had one-on-one support staff with her throughout the day. She was back for every session and every summer. She loved being around the other kids, although you could tell she would take a little longer than they would to warm up after she was dropped off for the day. Other kids had questions about her. Lisa had autism. She quickly became one of my favourite campers. It got to the point where her support worker had asked if I was interested in keeping an eye on her after school and doing some activities with her during the school year as her family was looking for a little help. I would go to high school and complain about my homework and the mean girls…then I would go over to Lisa’s for a few hours and remember how lucky I am, seeing her struggle with small everyday tasks. Suddenly homework and the mean girls didn’t mean so much. I met Lisa when she was seven and worked with her until she was ten. Lisa helped me grow up in many ways too. She helped me appreciate the little things and see everything in a new perspective. I think about her often and wonder how she’s doing these days…as a teenager. It’s reading things like this that make me so happy, thinking about how kids that may be in a classroom or at daycamp with someone like Lisa, with a different learning style, but they’ll know a little more, and understand a little better. I want you to meet Julia:
Have a read from NPR:
Julia is described by the Sesame Workshop as “a preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends.”
The muppet Julia has not yet made her TV debut, but the wide-eyed little girl with a big smile is the star of her own “digital storybook” called “We’re Amazing, 1,2,3.”
For over a year now, Sesame Street has been working with organizations such as Autism Speaks and Autism Self Advocacy to help reduce the stigma associated with autism spectrum disorder. As part of the campaign “See Amazing in All Children,” the adorable muppet Abby Cadabby explains in one YouTube video, “Lots of kids have autism and that just means their brains work a little differently.”
Julia is not the first fictional media character with autism. But Michael Robb, Director of Research for Common Sense Media, an organization that rates and reviews media aimed at children, says Sesame Street’s move is “pretty groundbreaking.” “It can be difficult to start a conversation about children with disabilities. It’s even harder when that difference isn’t visible,” he says.
After looking through “We’re Amazing, 1,2,3,” Robb says the story could help children be more understanding of how Julia is different. “It’s very real in terms of talking in simple language. It spells out these things in concrete ways that kids can understand. It shows ways she’s just like other kids. It shows how making simple accommodations can help Julia.”
According to Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop, says Sesame Street producers are waiting to hear back from the autism community before introducing Julia to the show on TV.