Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor
Elmo has a new friend on the block.
Sesame Street, whose mission is “to help all children grow smarter, stronger and kinder”, just got one step closer to that goal. The producers recently announced their newest character, a bright-eyed, orange-haired muppet named Julia. Julia is just like every other muppet: she likes laughing, playing with her friends, and having a fun time on the happiest street in America. The only difference? She has autism.
Motivated by the desire to increase awareness of childhood disabilities, Sesame Street’s decision to incorporate such an unconventional character is a noble one. Yet, despite all the good they’re doing, writers are being highly criticized. Skeptics are questioning why the autistic character was written as a girl. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 42 boys are affected with autism, while only 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed. Why, then, is Julia a girl? This question is not lost on executive vice president Sherrie Westin, who responded that since children are more likely to see an autistic boy, they wanted to show that girls can be autistic as well. Nevertheless, angry Americans’ cries rage on.
As their faces bloat crimson, they forget the more pressing question: why are they attacking something that will do such good? I applaud Sesame Street and its quest to combat ignorance at a young age. According to the senior vice president of U.S. social impact, children with autism are five times more likely to be bullied by their peers. This is deeply saddening; kids with autism often become deterred by this and want to avoid school at all costs. That’s why it’s so inspiring that an educational program targeting young children is tackling this issue by introducing a character who is sensitive to sound and lights, as well as some other seemingly odd characteristics, but she still likes to play with others.
Sesame Street is making strides in the right direction, but I hope someday she isn’t viewed as Julia, the little girl with autism, but as Julia--just another muppet.
Originally published in The Chronicle on November 13, 2015.