April is Autism Awareness Month
How Sesame Street models behaviors of inclusion
By Jean Klewitz
When the new Muppet character, Julia, a shy, artistic 4-year-old girl, made her debut on Sesame Street on April 10, 2017, you could tell there was something special about her.
In the episode “Meet Julia,” Big Bird is confused when Julia doesn’t respond to him. Throughout the episode, the characters of Sesame Street present the uniqueness and talents of their new friend to each other. The lively introductions to Julia provide a message of understanding for young viewers watching everywhere. “It’s just that Julia has autism,” Elmo says, “so sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
Little viewers are also learning valuable lessons in inclusion that will come in handy as they grow. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control, one in 68 American children have Autism Spectrum Disorder, so the chances of a 2- to 4-year-old having a relationship with an autistic child are pretty likely. Because it is so common, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children get screened between 18 and 24 months.
This new character on Sesame Street has received nationwide praise for displaying how to appropriately interact with individuals on the spectrum and she has come into our lives at the perfect time because April is Autism Awareness Month.
I recently attended my first TAFP conference at the C. Frank Webber Lectureship in Austin. I was fortunate to have met a very active member in the Academy, Mary Nguyen, MD, who practices in Castroville. While we were talking, she told me she has an autistic son. She shared that sometimes autistic individuals need time to process, to think about their answer and then respond. “We often think that someone is slow or stupid, because they can’t respond quickly — because everything is fast,” she said. “But sometimes fast is not always better.”
As family physicians, you see autistic individuals in your practice regularly but, as Dr. Nguyen told me, if you've seen one person with autism, you've seen one person with autism. Autism is different in every individual.
“I am interested in finding ways to make people more accepting and more willing to learn about different ways to interact with people on the spectrum,” Dr. Nguyen said.
AAFP has several resources on Autism Spectrum Disorder for your patients and their families. You can access them at www.aafp.org.
And for your young patients with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, perhaps some prescribed Sesame Street viewing is in order. Writers for the show recently told CNN that their goal is to show kids that people with autism can be a part of the neighborhood, too. They hope that someday Julia will not be the kid on Sesame Street who has autism, but rather just Julia.