By Jenise Jackson
Blog Content Contributor
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only kid who was in love with Sesame Street growing up. Naturally, I was excited to hear that the show would be featuring a new Muppet for the first time in 50 years. What hyped me up even more about the announcement is that the new Muppet, whose name is Julia, is autistic. While everyone may not be as enthusiastic about this as I am, it is a very groundbreaking moment.
When I was little, I didn’t know anything about autism. I didn’t even know that there were kids around me who were on the autism spectrum. But just because someone is unaware that something exists, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. It would be a boy named Simeon who taught me exactly what autism was. I was in the third grade and he was a new student in my class. Every day throughout the year, one of the special education teachers would come and get Simeon out of class, but I never understood why. In my head, I just saw Simeon as a shy person who didn’t want to talk and I never believed anything was wrong with that.
But others saw him as different and they didn’t like that. Kids would make fun of him and physically harm him. There was an incident where one of my classmates pushed Simeon down so hard that he broke his arm. After that incident, my teacher saw it fit to explain why Simeon was the way he was. She told us that he had autism, a condition that is characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. People tend to fear what they don’t know and that is why Simeon was bullied for being who he was. While autism can be different for each person that has it, there are many kids like Simeon who experience the same abuse on a daily basis. And that is why I think Sesame Street’s decision to include an autistic character is important.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 American children have autism. These children are likely to live with the condition into their adult lives, meaning that a fellow student could be living with autism. Having resources that not only autistic children but their peers can relate to is vital for making a more receptive environment. As awareness is shone on autism, it has been said that the material Sesame Street is aiming to present with the introduction of Julia helps families with autistic children feel more willing to incorporate them in broader community activities, and families with children that do not have autism are more accepting of those kids who do.
It could also help with the children’s futures. With kids learning how to cope with and welcome autism at a young age, a sense of commonality is established. This allows kids with autism to grow up and feeling more comfortable in the world they are in and lead them down a successful path in life. They could make it through college, get a job and anything else they aspire to do; all while being surrounded by a society that has learned and continues to learn to accept them.
I believe Sesame Street has always done a good job of representing and including a diverse range of characters. Their indulgence into real-life issues is what helped me develop the open-mind that I have today. Julia’s inclusion on Sesame Street is just another opportunity to teach children that just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean you have to mistreat them. In fact, we should embrace these individuals.
Featured image via youtube.com.