Sesame Street's new character, Julia, is validation and recognition of the magnitude of autism -- that the number of individuals, families and friends experiencing autism daily is such that it warrants space and airtime on the gold standard of trusted children's programming, says a Virginia Tech expert.
“In Julia, young viewers with autism can see a character with whom they identify - and the same is true, of course, for that child's siblings, parents, and caregivers,” said Amy Azano, an assistant professor of adolescent literacy and an affiliated faculty member with the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, who launched SAFE — Supporting Autism Friendly Environments — and is mom to a son with autism. (Full bio)
“Interventions are often designed to teach individuals with autism how to interact in social settings --- the person with autism is constantly trying to negotiate his or her disability to move through life."
“What's great about Julia and other similar initiatives is that they raise awareness that the world is malleable, too. The world can bend toward the person with autism-- it doesn't have to just be a one-way street. It's not enough to tell children to accept and embrace difference if they don't have models for those behaviors."
“Don't tell them, show them -- and that's exactly what Sesame Street will do. Bringing Julia to life and to the screen is a way to normalize that difference and provide a schema for interacting with others who have autism. What I hope we'll see is a muppet that wants the same exact things as any other muppet - to be accepted, valued, and loved."
Amy Azano’s research includes a focus on gifted and autistic students and their families, educators, and care-providers in rural communities. Watch her TEDxVirginiaTech on ruralities of autism.
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