Autism on Screen- Sesame Street: Meet Julia

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Earlier this week, popular children’s TV show Sesame Street officially debuted a new puppet with a twist- a puppet with autism! 😀 The character of Julia was introduced as part of Sesame Street’s autism initiative, first appearing on Monday to rave reviews from fans, experts and parents everywhere.

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Whilst only making the news in recent months, Julia has in actual fact been around since 2015, having first appeared in an online storybook about autism as part of ‘Sesame Street’s’ autism initiative- ‘Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children’.

The creators of Sesame Street established this initiative in 2015 in order to promote better understanding of the condition after a study revealed that children with autism are more than five times more likely to be bullied than their peers!! This initiative was developed in partnership with autism workers, advocates, parents and autists themselves in order to ensure that the topic is handled in the best possible way.

You can find out more about the initiative here:

http://autism.sesamestreet.org/

It’s a nifty little website providing videos for kids, videos for parents, daily routine cards and loads of other useful materials for children and adults alike 🙂

So what is Julia actually like?

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Julia first appears onscreen quietly painting with her friends Elmo, the fairy Abby Cadabby and Alan. When Big Bird comes on the scene, Julia largely ignores him, completely engrossed in her painting. The other puppets are engaging in finger painting, but Julia makes noises of disgust and uses a paintbrush instead, with Abby remarking that Julia hates the feeling of paint on her fingers.

With their paintings finished, Abby gives Julia’s painting huge praise (it was easily better than Abby and Elmo’s efforts), remarking that she is very creative- casually demonstrating the talents that autists possess without veering into savant stereotypes. Big Bird tries to hive five Julia for her efforts, but still she ignores him, making no eye contact. When Julia hops off to play tag with the other puppets, Big Bird questions whether Julia likes him or not. This leads Alan to explain autism to Big Bird so that he understands that Julia does things a little differently, “in a Julia sort of way“- but she’s also lots of fun! 🙂

Later in the episode, Julia hears nearby sirens and covers her ears in response to the noise, needing to go somewhere quiet for a bit, subtly demonstrating how an autist can struggle with sensory sensitivity. Julia also carries around Fluster, a rabbit toy which she strokes to help her calm down, showing the audience ‘stimming’ in action.

The primary focus of this segment is to demonstrate that although Julia has autism, she can play and be your friend just like everyone else. After Big Bird remarks that Julia is not like any friend he’s ever had before, Elmo and Abby point out that none of them are exactly the same, bird, monster, fairy- they are all different, but are friends regardless. Julia talks a little differently, repeats sentences, flaps her arms when she gets excited- but she’s just another playmate, however different, at the end of the day 🙂

You can watch Julia’s debut in full in the video below  🙂 :

My school life would have been so much easier had other children been better able to understand and accept me as the other puppets accept Julia, but with initiatives like this at work I have great hope for the next generation 🙂

This episode was handled both sensitively and intelligently to provide children everywhere with an insight into autism. All behaviours are explained, little is left for the audience to guess at. Julia is different to the other puppets yes, but the episode normalizes her differences so that when children encounter real people like Julia, they will be treated with acceptance and understanding 🙂

Here’s a behind the scenes look at how the character was brought to life:

Fun Fact: Julia’s puppeteer (who can be seen in this video thumbnail) is a mother to an autistic son in reality!

This was a pleasure to watch and I look forward to seeing all of Julia’s future adventures in the show! 🙂

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Aoife

A Siblings Perspective of Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Going to shake things up a little bit today with an interview!

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When it comes to experiences of living with autism, we hear most frequently from parents and those with the condition themselves. Oftentimes we forget that siblings of children with autism are also living the experience. So today I’m going to interview my sister Órlaith about her experiences of growing up with a sibling on the spectrum 🙂

What am I getting myself into….

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Over to you then Órlaith! 🙂

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Hello everyone! I’m Órlaith, Aoife’s younger (but not youngest!) sister. She’s roped me in today to talk about how life was growing up oblivious to the fact that Aoife has autism… and to provide some lovely anecdotes about some of her finest moments… Muahaha… So let’s get started!

Aoife: Growing up oblivious to the fact that I was on the spectrum, did you ever feel that something was different about me? Did you ever think my behaviour odd?

Where do I start! We always knew that there was something different about you. If you ask mammy I’m sure she will tell you you were born different. I suppose the most stand out things though were your spectacular “temper tantrums”, fantastic lack of tact, and your…amm… preference for always telling the truth…

I never really understood why when you got mad things really escalated like they did, I always thought it was not usual. Aoibhlinn (our other sister) and I would have had our moments but they were nothing compared to yours! Of course now with hindsight it’s easy to see that they were actually meltdowns that you weren’t really in control of but at the time it seemed very odd.

The tact and the truth telling always went/go hand in hand, it definitely wasn’t the norm for someone (in Ireland anyway), to tell you exactly what they think, no sugar coatings. That always struck me as odd. I’ll always appreciate being told that I look terrible… 😛

Looking back on it now, even when we watch old videos of you when you were about 5, it’s so obvious you have autism!

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Aoife: Did friends or other children ever pass comment to you about my “uniqueness” (for want of a better term)?

They did from time to time, which was never easy to hear because it’s your sister that people are talking about.  

Aoife: Did you ever find it hard to relate to me versus Aoibhlinn or other children?

Nah brah, I got your back jack! 🙂 Like, you often took managing but I never had a problem connecting with you, probably because we always liked the same things. And I dunno, you seem to like me or something so I think that helps 😛

Aoife: How did you feel around me when I would have a meltdown? What did you make of my meltdowns?

In general, the initial reaction was “Oh lord she’s at it again”, I think we all just got used to you and thought you were just being dramatic (see that time you threw everything out the window 😛). I’m a pretty anti-confrontation person anyway so when your blow-ups really blew up I really hated it and wanted you to just calm down and see reason, but I now know that when you’re in the middle of a meltdown you can’t see reason! Just having a, what we call, “Aoife Moment™”.

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Aoife: Growing up, even though you’re younger than me, did you ever feel responsible for me, as if you were my big sister?

Now that you mention it, I guess I did. Without being aware that you had autism and that you had to basically be taught how to behave in social situations, I think that I always felt like I had to show you how things work in the world and make you more “streetwise” because those things didn’t come naturally to you. You often don’t see the danger in things so often I feel a bit “big sisterly” and want to try and guard you and take you out of “Aoifeland” (for those who don’t know, this is the magical place Aoife goes to in her head when she zones out and falls down the stairs, spends hours looking at the ceiling, etc.). I still feel like I’m teaching you things every day, so I guess that changes the dynamic, dammit Aoife you’re meant to be teaching me! 😛

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Aoife: What did you know/feel about autism before I was diagnosed?

A hell of a lot less than I know now! Not a whole lot to be honest, I think I thought it was something that’s a lot more of a big deal than it is. I didn’t know how prevalent it is in people, which was a huge eye opener!

Aoife: Did you ever resent me for being different/my behaviours/social faux pas etc.?

A bit because you could have an “Aoife moment” and say something embarrassing about me 😛 Often you could have an embarrassing moment and, sure, that’s annoying, but on the up side, your social faux pas have led to some entertaining moments (“Mammy why is that man so smelly?” (Aoife 1994) Oh and let’s not forget your amazing sense of tact, it would be nice to not be insulted all the time, not that you mean to be insulting (I think…… 😛 )

Aoife: How did you feel about/react to my diagnosis?

I wasn’t in any way surprised because as we already talked about, there was always something odd about you! I think it was a good thing for you because it gave you a huge awareness and understanding about yourself and who you are, and that you’re not JUST an oddball, you’re an oddball with Autism! 😉

Aoife: Thanks for that then Órlaith! I bid you adieu! 🙂

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So there we are now Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post!

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

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Aoife (and Órlaith 🙂 )

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