In order to destigmatize mental conditions, we need to teach kids that it's not something to be ashamed of but something to be proud of instead.
And what better place to learn that than Sesame Street?
Julia, the first Muppet with autism, is being introduced as part of “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” an app that aims to teach children about autism and prevent autistic children from being bullied in school, reports People. The app — which includes video and digital story cards — explains what having autism is like from the perspective of a child with autism.
"This is what makes our project so unique," senior vice president of U.S. social impact, Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, told People. "When we explain from a child's point of view that there are certain behaviors, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children to understand how to interact with their autistic peers."
Sesame Street is also spreading awareness through the hashtag #SeeAmazing and with other visual elements, such as "The Amazing Song" (below):
"Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied," said Dr. Betancourt. "And with one in 68 children having autism, that's a lot of bullying. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences."
The online storybook We're Amazing, 1, 2, 3! explains why Julia likes to play a little differently from her other Sesame Street friends (but that doesn't mean she doesn't want to be friends) and how to respond appropriately:
"Elmo's daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism," he says. "So she does things a little differently. Sometimes Elmo talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times."
"Can I play?" Abby asks Julia. But Julia doesn't look at Abby. "Oh, and sometimes Elmo waits a long time for Julia to answer," Elmo adds. So Abby and Elmo wait.
Finally Julia says, "Play with Abby and Elmo!"
We hope that Julia makes her small-screen debut sometime soon!
Illustration by Marybeth Nelson for Sesame Workshop