Sesame Street and Autism
Originally, I had planned this piece to be about how much I do NOT like the Muppets and Sesame Street. It’s the voices – so over modulated , excessive somehow, and irritating – and the frenetic movements, as well as the gape-mouthed or expressionless visages - precisely the qualities Sara, my support person, has told me appeal to many autistics because they are easier to “read”. I do not like the bouncing around they do, either. Yes, I did watch Sesame Street as a child and enjoyed it then, especially Grover, the crabby one; crabby I can relate to! I even had a cup with, not a smiley face, but a frowny one; I felt it reflected how I usually felt – unhappy. I Forget what the writing on it was, but it wasn’t “Have a nice day”. My parents always got my sister the smiley items, but I actually wanted the not-so-smiley ones.
My mother was constantly reminding me, “pretty is as pretty does”, which I translated as I was only a beautiful face – and even that I didn’t see as attractive at all - , “What are they talking about, “pretty”? I was the “pretty one” and my sister was the “good girl”. I saw my self as evil and ugly. Flawed. Inadequate. It took a long time to conquer feelings like that, but that is another essay.
So, back to “Sesame Street”. It turns out, it’s not just the expressions )or lack, thereof - which appeal to autistics; there is actually an autistic character!
Her name is Julia, and she has been in the works since 2015 at least; I believe she was rolled out this year.
In this Salon article, it mentions how, 46 years ago, there was a Marcus Welby, MD episode (one of my favorite shows, which also fueled my pre-med student’s hypochondriasis), which featured a boy with autism. I actually remember this episode; it was one of my favorites. As "Salon" points out, this episode was not a feel – good type portrayal; the kid was violent and out of control; his parents were facing institutionalization.
I saw the episode years after it aired; I imagine I was between eight and ten years old, but I identified with the little guy – I was pretty out of control myself at that age, and would get much worse after puberty struck at age 12.
Could not find that episode online – sure it’s somewhere, but I lack the patience.
As I sit here, at Autistry, in the computer room, at least one other person is watching "Sesame Street" - sometimes I wonder if I am the only autistic person who does NOT like the Muppets!
According to Sara, "Sesame Street Classic" is the preferred format for the autistic folks she knows – and it is not only children and severe autistics; even verbal adults enjoy watching, too. Like my autistic online friend, Christy, who gives regular updates on her Muppet viewing.
When I asked why she thought the "classic" format was preferred over the newer episodes, she said she thinks the digital animation is a bit offputting; the autistic folks she knows prefer the puppets, and the digital stuff is a bit too busy.
As far as the character, Julia, goes – she is controversial for several reasons, one being autism is not shown through her eyes, but through the people around her.
The fact she is a girl when most autistics are boys was actually premeditated – the creators wanted to show autism can occur in girls, too.
I think it is definitely a step in the right direction to introduce Julia, so I am not going to quibble about it. In fact, as I started this article, I was feeling quite antagonistic toward the whole Muppet phenomenom.
Sesame Street and Autism