Have you met Julia? She is the little girl who has autism that just moved onto Sesame Street and most are glad she’s arrived. But a gang of haters also suddenly popped up in the ‘hood and are giving the newest muppet a really hard time. Actually, it’s more like bullying the special puppet. And that shit just ain’t okay.
Why are they attacking Julia? Sesame Street has had other special needs characters in the past: Katie, who is in a wheelchair; Aristotle, who is blind; Linda, who was deaf. The creators that worked for years on the character hoped the general public would enjoy and learn that kids with autism might be a little different, but can still be amazing in their own way.
“[M]ost of us #seeamazing when we look at Julia and this important initiative” for Autism
Admittedly, Sesame Street risked facing negative reactions when choosing one character to represent such a wide range within the spectrum. One particular concern is the statistics of 1 in 42 boys compared with 1 in 89 girls who are diagnosed with Autism that suggest proper representation would have had them create the character to be a (black) boy rather than orange haired, green-eyed Julia. But advocacy organizations whose viewpoints also range widely such as Autism Speaks, that considers autism a syndrome that calls for research to help mitigate its effects, and others, such as the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, who simply view autism as an alternative way of expressing oneself, have put aside the particulars and publicly supported the initiative.
“one of the goals of the program was intended to reach parents of both autistic and NT children and show the joys of raising an autistic child – And they have”
However, on social media, advocates of the character are verbally rumbling with the haters and conspiracy theorists. Some are saying Julia is too ‘nice’ and gentle, asking why this character doesn’t throw tantrums, have seizures, bite or act aggressively and “all the negative things we hate about autism to really show people what it’s like?” But do we show the unpleasant side of neurotypical characters to our preschoolers? Does Elmo lie, cheat, throw himself on the floor in Walmart aisles like our ‘normal’ little angels do?
In fact, one of the goals of the program was intended to reach parents of both autistic and NT children and show the joys of raising an autistic child – And they have. Adults are telling their own touching stories about their children, their families and joyfully ugly crying all over the place because this program matters to them. It has personal relevancy to them and their communities no matter where their child – girl or boy; verbal or nonverbal; this label or that – falls on the spectrum.
Sherrie Westin, Sesame’s executive vice president, global impact and philanthropy said they considered all characteristics for the character. Working with parents, advocacy groups, and experts they decided on these traits for Julia: She can speak. She may have trouble making eye contact and dislikes noise. And she flaps her arms when she gets excited. Alongside these typical markers of autism, Julia is also curious and smart. “We chose things we thought would be most helpful and most typical,” Westin said. She also commented that they will be keeping an eye on how effective the materials are suggesting that the story lines may develop according to response.
Seems like a reasonable back and forth discussion between parties interested in positive outcomes – Until you come across rantings of the Anti Vaxxers who are seemingly the ring leaders of the gang of vocal hooligans, arguing that creating a character like Julia normalizes autism and neurodysfunction rather than demanding further answers to WHY Julia has autism. You see, this group still believes that Autism is caused by vaccines despite scientific proof it does not.
It might be okay if these criticisms intelligently focused the discussion on ‘Why’ it is occurring more frequently and the word ‘normal’ as it relates to autism and the Sesame Street character. But it has become a full out attack of the crazy people: Mike “The Health Ranger” Adams of Natural News described the character as “yet another sickening example of the absolute mental derangement of modern society.” Why you gotta be like that Mike? Who attacks a muppet in that way, for crimey sake?
The hostile dialogue is bringing out the internet trolls in full force who, behind the safety of their computer screens, feel emboldened to negatively declare that the BIGS – Big Pharma and the government aka Big Brother – are behind the creation of this character. Their arguments quickly veer off topic to rage against the pink ribbon campaign, obesity, and other any other *ahem* solid conspiracy theory they can bring forth. The online discussion suggesting they shut down the a-holes at PBS who are using Elmo to peddle neurotoxins, using up taxpayers money and adding to the underemployment of musicians was especially enlightening for us folks that thought inclusion and understanding were a good thing. Their rants are like a bad run on sentence linking sweet Julia to any nutbar’s hidden agenda.
So, go ahead – show your offside crazy and repeat this crap about conspiracy directly to Frank, Autism Dad who also works at Sesame and helped to bring forth this program, and to the family that lives two doors down whose child has autism and tell them their child isn’t ‘Amazing’ and deserve representation. I double dare you!
It matters to them. It matters to all of us. And someone is going to give you a well-deserved beat down for picking on Julia to further your posturing and fanatical histrionics – most of us #seeamazing when we look at Julia and this important initiative.
This post was published first at BLUNTmoms.com where I wrote this as a Wannabe BLUNT
Image credit MaryBeth Nelson/Sesame Street Workshop