Sesame Street has officially introduced a new Muppet to its extensive cast. This time, there stands some controversy with this new character. For starters, her name is Julia, and for the purpose of the show, she has autism. No matter your position on Sesame Street's inclusion of an autistic Muppet, one must recognize that this is a bold move for all involved.
For almost 50 years #SesameStreet has been promoting peace and unity by including all sorts of characters and challenging conventional television methods. In its early years it sought to include African-American and Latino characters, to show audiences that we can all get along regardless of skin color. They went even further by continually delving into other cultures in order to promote unity.
This time, things are different. By introducing an autistic Muppet, regardless of intentions, the show is walking a fine line between "offensive" and "visionary." According to autismspeaks.org:
Autism or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.
This is a serious condition that should not be joked about. I am not at all saying that this is what Sesame Street is doing. What I am saying is that this is a condition that should be taken very seriously in all forms of media: television, radio, movies, etc.
Is The Content Offensive?
I have not seen Julia's character enough to know whether or not she is blatantly offensive to those who have autism. What I do know is this: In any scenario, autism should be handled with respect and care. To many viewers, this content might come off as offensive simply because they are using a Muppet to convey the symptoms of autism. For other critics, the reasons are much more complex. Some are worried about becoming too inclusive of autism to the point where we stop trying to eliminate the sickness and begin to accept it as normal.
On the flip side of the coin, many autistic children are on the receiving end of being bullied and abused because of their condition. CBS News says:
"Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University conducted a survey of 1,200 parents who had a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and found 63 percent of the kids had been bullied. The researchers also found these children were three times more likely to be bullied than their siblings who do not have autism."
By including a character that has autism, Sesame Street may have the opportunity to increase children's understanding of the condition and to encourage young audiences to include autistic children in their friend circles.
What Does This Mean Exactly?
Ultimately, Sesame Street is walking a fine line, and the effects of the new character are yet to be seen. One can only hope that this decision benefits those with autism as well as those without. Sesame Street has always made controversial decisions, and they never stand within everybody's approval. This is to be expected, and the controversy surrounding this decision should not effect the way the character is to be viewed by audiences.
What do you think of Sesame Street's recent decision to include an autistic character?
(Sources: Autism Speaks)