Sesame Street: Inclusive of Autism

Recently, the infamous children’s show Sesame Street decided to add a new character. Julia, a muppet on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a four-year-old female. An article from The New York Times addresses how Julia “loves to sing and can memorize lyrics better than her young peers” sometimes “struggles with loud noises like sirens, which can cause her to become emotionally upset. Sesame Street previously introduced Julia in the fall of 2015, as a character within the digital storybook, and now she is going to be a main component of the Sesame Street cast.

Some might wonder why Sesame Street decided to cast a new character on the ASD, and the reasoning was that the workers of the show “wanted to demonstrate some of the characteristics of autism in a positive way… in order to break down myths and misconceptions around autism, such as that it only affects males.” The concept behind adding Julia as a member of the cast coincidentally encompasses two of the main keywords we have discussed in this course: education and girlhood.

For the keyword education, the producers of Sesame Street are striving to inform not only children, but individuals of all ages about the ASD. Their goal is to educate people on some of the attributes and behaviors that are commonly associated with children on the ASD, so they can learn to be accepting and inclusive of everyone despite autism being a so-called “disability.” More often than not, children with autism have the ability to excel in many different areas, some of which include art, music, and other academics. However, the most prominent underlying issue is that children with autism are often excluded or underestimated by their peers since they are labeled in society as autistic. Yes, it is evident that if an individual has autism that they are autistic, however, an individual should not be defined by a label or stereotype. They are worth more than just the label that was imposed on them. By educating children at a young age through mediated television shows, videos and ebooks, as well as books, the producers of Sesame Street  are hoping that this informalized process of education produces a worthwhile and meaningful influence on their audience members, so much to the point that it cultivates changes of inclusivity in a positive manner.

As for the keyword girlhood, I think it is important to acknowledge the quotation that was addressed previously about the myths and misconceptions about autism exclusively affecting the male population. Although autism predominantly affects the male population, one cannot simply exclude females from this equation. The video included within the article from The New York Times demonstrates Julia, the young girl on the ASD, and Abby, another young girl not on the ASD. Together, they share an incredibly adorable bond over the Sesame Street theme song, “Sunny Days.” By embracing their differences, Julia and Abby are accepting of one another and demonstrate how girlhood simply means being a young and playful little girl. As a sibling of a brother with autism, I am thrilled that Sesame Street is taking the time to spread positive messages about autism and that they are making the effort to have children embrace their individuality. Whether or not a child is on the ASD, it is important that each and every child can be proud of who they are and that they are not defined by their disability, but rather all of their abilities.




15 thoughts on “Sesame Street: Inclusive of Autism”

  1. I think this is a very interesting approach that Sesame Street has taken. I feel that it is important to begin educating children at a young age to be inclusive and accepting of individuals with Autism. I think that children are not expected to understand the concept of disabilities and are not yet educated until later on. I think Sesame Street’s introduction of this new character will begin educating children at a younger age and presents this character at the same level as the other characters, therefore teaching children not to look down or differently upon individuals with autism. Very interesting, I feel we don’t see a lot of autistic characters in the media!

  2. I really like this post! I agree that it is great that the show is making these changes to include a cast member that encompasses a well known disorder. I think that shows are afraid of including cast members with varying disabilities because of the criticism they may receive or an inability to respectfully portray the disorder, so I think that it’s great that Sesame Street has found a way to include a character with ASD into the show.

  3. I think what Sesame Street is doing is absolutely fantastic. I remember as a child, around kindergarten age, having an autistic classmate and not knowing anything about autism. I never said anything about it, but knowing that someone was “different” from me was confusing. I think it is important for children to learn about different types of disabilities because it is something they will see for the rest of their lives. Knowing that Julia and Abby can play with each other is something every child should see so they realize that they can still have fun with people with disabilities such as autism.

    1. I totally agree with this! As a young child I had some exposure to individuals with physical disabilities, but very little exposure to individuals developmental or intellectual disabilities. In my kindergarten class there were 3 kids with fairly severe special needs and I remember feeling pretty confused for the first few weeks of school. By including characters with ASD in kids shows, hopefully kids, like myself, will be more comfortable and accepting of peers with disabilities and for everyone’s sake-skip the ‘confused’ stage-and skip right to treating these kids like any other kid!

  4. Jenna this post is incredible! I could not agree more with everything you stated. ASD is a huge subject that many love to dance around instead of confront. I am so glad you wrote about this because I did not know that Sesame Street decided to add Julia to the cast. As a future educator a topic as this is very important to me.

    1. I totally agree that ASD is definitely a topic people dance around. We need to make a better effort at educating people and making not such a scary topic to discuss. It’s great to know that Sesame Street is starting to educate kids from a young age but we also need to do a better job at educating kids who are older to. Start targeting kids who are young adults and make the atmosphere around ASD better.

  5. This is really interesting! I didn’t know about this new character but I love that they are exposing young kids to Autistic people. I think it is easy to get caught up in diversity regarding race, gender, class, or ethnicity and often people with physical or mental disabilities are overlooked. I also liked what you said about how people with autism are, “often excluded or underestimated by their peers”. The is very true, but I hope with more exposure, with characters like this, kids learn not to underestimate anymore.

  6. I’ve actually heard quite a bit about this new character with autism on Sesame Street! I think it’s great that it’s circulating and getting so much positive acknowledgement. Since this new character has been introduced, an older new edition character to Sesame Street has also been getting mentioned. This new and different muppet also can be defined by the keyword “education,” but instead of the girlhood keyword, I would say childhood because it is a male muppet! This muppet, known as Alex, has a father that is in jail. It may not be a physical problem like Julia’s autism, but it still can be just as big of a mental problem having to cope and deal with a parent that is not around. Especially because something bad happened. The article below mentions how he had a hard time coping with the fact of his father being in jail, and how it was embarrassing of him to let others know. I think Sesame Street is doing some really great things by introducing real problems that may not be always be something talked about out loud; may it be autism or personal family problems.

  7. Sesame Street’s action of adding a character with Autism on the show is really impactful. Kids grow up watching cartoons and these shows at a young age. The characters in these shows almost never have a disorder, such as autism. If everyone grows up learning from shows that all children should be the same, then they will never understand that every child is different in their own way. And, just because someone is different, they are not any less capable, talented, or gifted. Julia’s character educates children about the fact that not every child is the same! I think this is so important– starting kids young when educating them about differences!

  8. I think this is a very interesting and positive approach to beginning to help others understand what autism is and what it entails especially for young children. I am so glad you posted this on here because I had not heard anything about this until I read this now! We were just discussing around the keyword of “education” in another one of my classes about how children often times do not know about Autism, which leads them to fear it. We all know that in a school this is not what we want for our students. We do not want them fearing others because they do not know anything about Autism. I think that especially for young kids watching this show and seeing this new character it will lead to less fear because they will have some knowledge about this and also curiosity about Autism. It may lead them to ask more questions and want to know more about it!

  9. This is awesome that Sesame Street is making awareness of autism to kids of young ages. When I was growing up, I did not know anyone with autism and therefore was not aware of what it was or how to react to people who have it. I also think it is important that Sesame Street is showing the friendship between Julia and Abby. It is important to spread this awareness and make known that Autism can affect boys and girls but we still need to be accepting of kids and adults with Autism. I am currently watching the show “Switched At Birth” where one of the characters has an Autistic child and that changes how he sees the world and how he treats people with disabilities. Learning about disabilities is crucial to making a change and showing the others that people with disabilities are talented and strong in their own, but different ways.

  10. What a great read! I have a young cousin who was recently diagnosed with ASD and has been struggling with understanding why he has to be different from his peers. This has been very hard for my family to be able to explain why and how, for it is something he is going to always have to deal with now. I think Julia will give him and many others diagnosed great insight and encouragement that they are not alone. I will have to show this to my family. Thank you for this!

  11. Great post! These types of conversations need to become more prevalent, especially when ASD is being diagnosed more frequently. Breaking the stereotypes that this is not a gendered issue is extremely important. Inclusivity in mainstream media has amazing effects in normalizing issues such as ASD–I think that other shows should follow Sesame Street’s lead in being proactive and educating viewers about autism, as it is sparsely understood by the general population.

  12. I think Sesame Street is doing something really great by adding this character. Sesame Street has to be one of the longest running television shows for children. So many generations have grown up watching it. Sesame Street using its power as this big TV show is helping to normalize Autism in media and in the United States, which is truly amazing.

  13. This is so well written! I think that including a muppet on the ASD really helps to inform children about other kids that may be different from them. Personally, I didn’t know anything about ASD growing up, so I think having a Sesame Street character who represents this would have been helpful to my understanding. I think Sesame Street is really heading in the right direction with the variety of characters they have on the show.

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