Understanding Autism

Children show’s new character brings disorder into spotlight, call for more representation

Alli Williams, co-editor in chief

Last week, Sesame Street made headlines after introducing a new character to the show a Muppet named Julia, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD.) Sesame Street said in doing this, they hope to end the stigma of the neurodevelopmental disorder and to fight against bullying which according to cdc.org, children on the autistic spectrum are five times more likely to experience.

Sesame Street’s move is congruous to the growing call for acceptance in pop culture.

Autism Speaks, a popular charity which raises money and awareness for autism, was recently  and continues to be under fire for the way they manage their organization.

The autistic community has repeatedly accused Autism Speaks of taking away their voice from the leadership of the charity, while treating the disorder as a negative stigma that needs to be cured. In it’s 10 years of operation, the organization has never had an autistic person on their board.

As this issue was brought into light, advocates for Autism Rights have stressed the need for understanding and acceptance from the community instead of a cure.

As defined by OxfordDictionaries.com, ASD is a “mental condition characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”

Autism is no longer being represented exclusively in the form of a genius, nonverbal eight year old boy.

Autism is now being represented more and more accurately, as a disorder that can affect any gender or age in many different ways.

America’s view on autism is changing, and it needs to be shown for what it is. Autism is a disorder, just like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Although research should still continue to be done on ways to help the autistic community in dealing with triggers like sound-sensitivity and creating resources to help communication, society’s focus should be shifted towards acceptance.

ASD is not a disease parents should avoid getting their children a potentially life-saving vaccination out of an irrational fear their child may ‘contract’ autism.

Those affected by ASD should not go their whole life inaccurately believing they are a problem needed to be ‘fixed,’ but rather they should celebrate themselves for their unique qualities.

They deserve to be as accurately portrayed in television shows as they are in the population. According to cdc.gov, an estimated 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD.

I have seen more than 68 characters in TV shows.

I have never seen a character with autism.

Those with autism should be equally represented to build acceptance of the disorder in kids not familiar with ASD, but even more so, for kids with autism to build acceptance in themselves.

Sesame Street’s decision to add an autistic character to their show will positively affect both how autistic children see themselves, and how their peers see them.

And that is a wonderful thing.