Ah well. Sesame Street has “done” their autism thing, asked us to “See Amazing” and left me somewhat dumbfounded and more than a little disappointed.
I am late to discuss Sesame Street’s new autism awareness initiative but faced with overwhelming celebratory editorial, including from a few ‘pro-autistic’ camps that I thought had a clear and appropriate view on inclusion and neurodiversity, I thought maybe I was just nastily over-tired. It’s been a long week.
I was not surprised by mainstream media giving it a generalist “thumbs up”: I knew shit about autism before my daughter came along – and then it took years for the penny to properly drop – so why would any underpaid, overstretched neurotypical journalist take a nice Sesame-Street-cuddly easy-to-write-from-PR-blurb-and-a-few-clicks-around-a-website piece and sniff it and think it could possibly warrant some serious investigative journalism?
The overarching theme of the Sesame Street piece feels like “they’re not like us but we can be nice about the flappy kids, we can see how they’re great too!”, who’d rail against that, eh?
Maybe verbal autistic kids for starters.
I won’t be showing any of this to my daughter who, prior to even being formally diagnosed, was already articulating her distress, frustration and despair at being told that she was “special” by gently-smiling neurotypical teachers, relatives, and adults in general with no real understanding of who she really was or what her ‘experience’ was, good or bad.
She won’t get it, not because she’s stupid, but because it’s not for her, whatsoever. The bitter lasting taste in my mouth is the lack of an autistic first-person voice throughout Sesame Street’s autism resources.
Julia, the autistic Muppet, doesn’t even properly exist.
There isn’t a real-life autistic Muppet puppet, just a digital version. Sesame Street spokesperson Philip Toscano has stated that “…as of now, Julia will not be appearing on the Sesame Street broadcast”.
Why is that?
Based on Sesame Street’s choice of expert partners from whom to take advice, and whilst not explicitly said, their autism resources smack of the underlying belief that autistic kids don’t need autistic role models – they are surrounded by role models – us neuro-typicals!! Given a choice, who’d be autistic?
This content simply serves to remind me how profoundly grateful I am as the mother of an autistic daughter that she was atypically precocious in her language development and so was able to teach me pretty quickly not to fall into some of the traps that I can see parents of non-verbal children could more easily fall into, like believing they don’t (need to) have their own voice. I am being VERY polite here.
I also don’t appreciate seeing videos of autistic children (or anyone else for that matter) being unnecessarily restrained when showing distress; nor objectified and treated with insufficient love, respect and compassion.
There’s a video with one kid who has an autism assistance dog, that’s great. He wears a belt attached to the dog when he’s out and about and if he bolts (a lot of autistic kids do), then the dog stays put and the kid doesn’t get lost. Fine. The dog is also great for emotional support and reassurance.
If as that kid’s parent, you need to put the big dog belt on your child and use it constantly tug him back into place so that you can control him sufficiently in a Sesame Street studio for them to get some good footage of him meeting a (non-autistic) muppet, you are not teaching us anything about autism. You are teaching us that you are a little bit of an asshole of a parent but as your kid is autistic, it’s OK.
There are plenty of autistic kids out there who are verbal, confident and would have loved to be part of this initiative, who would have needed no coercion or experienced any distress.
I am very acutely aware that I am quite new to campaigning for equality in neurodiversity and still learning. Also, that I am not autistic. As a parent of an autistic child, I feel I have to be exceptionally careful and sure that I am representing what my child and her neuro-different peers want, feel and need, not myself.
So, following my weekly “someone else said it better” theme, I am going to let a wonderful woman called Erin tell you why she is not in love with Julia either. You should read this.
If you like some of the crap I spew out then you might be interested that she is a huge inspiration to me generally.
I discovered her blog when I was learning about unschooling, and home schooling, only subsequently realising that she is autistic. Yeah, a grown-up married woman with kids, real and interesting, who is autistic: see – amazing.