“We’re all amazing, one, two, three!”
~ Sesame Street
If teenagers were asked to describe a child with autism, a multitude of explanations would be given. Many would say that a child with autism is one who demands special attention. Some would say that a child with autism resides in special needs classes due to their specialized issues. Others would simply define a child with autism as being “special.” Whatever the explanation, it becomes very evident that the majority of the current teenage generation knows very little to nothing about children with autism. Unless they are related or close to a child with autism, it seems unnecessary to many teens to have a basic understanding of this disorder. Autism can be a sensitive subject that many teens try to avoid; however, very few realize that this avoidance and ignorance of the topic negatively affects children with autism in such a tremendous way.
Autism in its simplest form is a developmental disorder that presents itself in early childhood and is often characterized by difficulty in communication, forming relationships with others, using language, and forming abstract concepts. The cause of this disorder is unknown; however, many theories point to a malfunction in brain development. Recent studies have provided enough evidence to construct a scale, often referred to as the Autism Spectrum Scale, to categorize the different extremities of autism. On this scale, the most functional type of autism is classified as Aspberger’s while the lowest and least functional is simply classified as children with no language or social skills and with severe sensory processing issues. As they progress up the scale, children with autism typically gain more language and communication skills; however, social skills are the hardest to overcome in any stage of autism.
In a child’s younger years, these social skills are essential for interaction with other children. Very often, autistic children are unable to cope with the fast-paced environment around them, and, unfortunately, many find themselves left out of social circles and activities. This occurs due to an autistic child’s inability to form relationships and a full-functioning child’s inability to understand the behavior of an autistic child.
In an attempt to prevent this separation, Sesame Street has announced that they will be releasing a new character with autism named Julia. Sesame Street describes Julia as being just like Elmo and his friends; however, sometimes Julia does things a little differently. For example, Elmo likes to play with his friends all the time, but sometimes Julia prefers to be alone. Elmo immediately warms up to new people, but Julia has to take some time to get used to the idea of meeting a new person. Elmo can make quick decisions, but sometimes Julia needs some time to think before making a choice.
By highlighting the behavior and mannerisms of Julia and her interactions with Elmo and friends, the creators of Sesame Street hope that young children will begin to understand the basic concept and signs of autism. If young children can grasp the basic idea of this disorder, they will be better prepared when they encounter an autistic child and will be more likely to befriend them. This early autism awareness that Sesame Street is attempting to achieve will also help children accept autism in the many years following their Sesame Street phase. It could revolutionize the way in which the coming generation and the world view autism.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to this delicate disorder at a very young age. My mother is a speech therapist who has an overflowing love in her heart for children with autism. I can remember laughing and playing with her autistic patients in her office just like I would with any other kid. Our current generation tends to paint a picture that children with autism are completely unable to function normally in society. Sesame Street is out to prove that this is not the case at all.
Children with autism are unique in every way possible. They are incredibly smart, caring, and kindhearted individuals who are such a joy to be around. They put the meaning of life into perspective by cherishing the little things for all they are worth. In the same sense, we should cherish these remarkable human beings and revel in how lovely they make the world. Life may not always be easy for children with autism, but they never ever give up. They take the good days with the bad days and soak up all the beauty of life every chance they get. I cannot wait to see the impact that Julia and the Sesame Street gang will make in helping the world understand the qualities that these inspiring children possess and how absolutely amazing they make our world.