Last week Sesame Street announced a new character for their online world; a little girl called Julia who has Autism. Along with Julie came a song, an online story book, routine cards, information and a bunch of videos. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out here.
The announcement went nuts online. I lost count of the amount of people who sent it to me on Facebook, each one exclaiming their excitement at the inclusive move.
The overwhelming feeling seemed to be a good one, oozing positivity, almost as though there was a collective sigh of recognition; autism awareness is making it to the mainstream.
But then, as often happens, there was a wave of negativity. A backlash. Because what comes up must come down. Or something like that.
“Julia is a girl”, some said, “and didn’t you know, most Autistics are boys?”
“Well, she’s verbal, so obviously it’s not like the experience of low functioning kids”, said others.
Then there was some vigorous chatter around the advocacy groups consulted in the development; too much of one and not enough of another.
But this one, which the team over at Raw Story shared, is by far my favourite…
“The rollout of autistic Julia is Sesame Street’s attempt to ‘normalize’ vaccine injuries and depict those victimized by vaccines as happy, ‘amazing’ children rather than admitting the truth that vaccines cause autism in some children and we should therefore make vaccines safer and less frequent to save those children from a lifetime of neurological damage,” wrote Mike “The Health Ranger” Adams, of Natural News.
My youngest sister sent to me and asked my opinion. And after reading it, I felt like I needed to go and scrub my eyeballs with bleach. Because that’s totally a logical response to reading such nonsense.
I won’t go into my views on the anti-vaxx “debate”. You can read them here. But in short, this rubbish is why we can’t have nice things as a society.
No action or initiative that any organisation takes in this space will be perfect. That’s a given. And not least because one person with autism is one person with autism. How do you ever capture that in a single character?
Maybe Julia should have been a boy, although they have included Autistic boys in the stories on the website. Maybe she should have been lower functioning. Maybe different advocacy groups should have been consulted, sooner.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. But I promise that no matter what, it would have been critiqued by lovely folks like Mike Adams and his merry band of anti-vaxx and big pharma conspiracy theorists.
Instead I like to think it’s a step. A door has been held open and there is an opportunity to step through it. To help change the dialogue. Once you’re in the room it’s much easier to contribute to the conversation, to change the course. If you stand on the outside and throw things at the windows, then you’ll never get in the door.
It might just be Sesame Street. It might just be a kids cartoon. It’s probably flawed and could be better.
But with it comes an opportunity. A chance to create a different future; a future where little girls like Poss aren’t bullied by teachers because only boys have Autism and maybe if she just had a little more discipline she’d behave.
It’s a chance to normalise, to chase tolerance and demand acceptance.