I must admit I have been avoiding watching ‘Julia’, the new puppet with autism on Sesame Street. You see Julia is old hat to us because for over the past 17 years we have been creating and delivering the Autism Demystification® Puppet Programs. During these years, I have seen a lot of “takes” on autism in pop culture. Unfortunately, most of these “takes” were epic fails, adding to stereo types and increasing the “us vs. them” attitudes.
So, I avoided watching Julia. My worry was that Sesame Street’s new character would undo all our hard work. However, I was pleasantly surprised at Sesame Street’s take. I only cringed twice during the episode LOL. Even though they are not teaching prosocial communication strategies, as Ollie, a
10-year-old with autism reminded us the other day. After watching the Julia episode, he pointed out, “Mom, they forgot to use Friendship Tip #4 –
they were going too fast, they need to wait for Julia to answer”.
While not “innovative”, I applaud Sesame Street for their addition of Julia. Julia does represent changing attitudes – and this is wonderful.
When I started developing and delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, educators freaked out at the puppet using the word autism. Yes, that is correct, many requested we drop the word autism from the program completely. It was like the puppets were using a 4-letter word. Also, when we started delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, self-regulating behaviours where called “stims”, dysregulation was called “melt downs” or “tantrums”, and affinities were called “perseverations”.
The focus in the autism community at that time was “cure”. You needed to “fix your broken child” through an intensive 40 hours a week of “behavioural modification”. However, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society took a completely different approach. Our focus was on understanding, acceptance and building empathy and friendships. We have worked hard over the past 15 years to change misconceptions and demystify autism. I am proud to be able to see evidence that we have been successful.
So, while Julia may seem cutting edge to the world, Julia is old hat to us at Friend 2 Friend who have had many Julia’s over the past 15 years. In fact, their names are: Min, Freddie, Angela and Angus. And of course, You Don’t Know, Jack! (animations by Iain Robbins).