Paren(t)hesis — All friends aren’t the same

May 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

A new kid joined Sesame Street on the public television show produced by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop! The new character has autism, and you can watch her on YouTube by searching “Meet Julia” to view the Season 47, Episode 15 clip.

Big Bird learns that Julia does some things differently, like:

Not answering right away

Not doing what others expect (may ignore requests to give a high five)

Doing things that might seem confusing to others (might flap hands when excited)

Getting upset around noise like ambulance sirens

The other characters, including the adult Alan, explain to Big Bird how to interpret Julia’s behavior and they agree that all friends aren’t the same. They break into a cute song together.

People with autism don’t all act the same, so it’s difficult to have just one character represent them all. To reach the best portrayal, the nonprofit Sesame Workshop brought in autism organizations in addition to the educators and child psychologists they regularly consult.

Although our daughter is out of the target range for the show, I’d like to show her the clip. I think it’d hold her interest long enough to get the point across and shows like this are a great way to ease into discussing other topics, such as autism

It’s on a different level but when I was a child, I remember Count Dracula being the first person I encountered with an accent. I suppose the character was meant to share math skills but I mostly noticed the “Transylvania accent.” Having heard it repeatedly probably helped me relate to people who would become our family friends, Spanish ex-patriots. The mother could not pronounce the “j” sound and always called me Yill instead of Jill. Being from another country seemed totally exotic to me and I was always a little afraid of the mom.

I’m sure kids with autism (or from other countries) don’t want to be feared. Hopefully Julia will help kids be a little more receptive to their potential new friends.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at jill@bayviewcompass.com.

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