Sunday, April 2, 2017, is World Autism Awareness Day. Also happening in April: Sesame Street, the long-running and much-loved television series, is welcoming Julia, a young Muppet with red hair, green eyes, a toy rabbit– and autism. The character already exists in print and digital storybooks as part of an initiative called Sesame Street And Autism: See Amazing In All Children. One in every 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Sesame Street wishes to expose the topic to young audiences.
“The big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'” Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told the CBS News show 60 Minutes. “It’s tricky because autism doesn’t present as one thing; it’s different for every single person who has autism.”
Introducing Julia is intended to help children to become familiar with the different characteristics associated with autism and better prepare them to interact with a similar child.
In her debut episode on April 10, Julia will demonstrate some common autism characteristics. When Big Bird is introduced to her, she will ignore him. Big Bird will be confused and think “that maybe she didn’t like me.” However, the other Muppets will tell him, “She does things just a little differently.”
“Just as we look at all children as being unique, we should do the same thing when we’re looking at children with autism,” states Ferraro.
Even though Sesame Street is for the younger crowd, I felt the information was applicable to all ages, since our first class addressing puberty begins in 3rd grade.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
There is no known single cause of autism but increased awareness, early diagnosis/ intervention and access to appropriate support services leads to significantly improved outcomes.
Some of the behaviors associated with autism include:
- delayed learning of language
- difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation
- difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning
- narrow, intense interests
- poor motor skills
- sensory sensitivities.
Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behavior patterns, just a few or many others besides. The diagnosis of ASD is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity. The earlier the diagnosis, the more successful the long-term outcome.
For parents who are dealing with a child on the spectrum, puberty education is an especially important factor to address. Puberty happens to all children, and adequate information is important so that the child will be prepared for the physical and emotional changes that occur in his or body. Puberty education might be even more important for spectrum kids, due in part to the internal and external challenges they already deal with daily.
Our Puber-Tea and Guy Talk classes traditionally are for 3rd-5th graders. However, it’s important to take into consideration your child’s physical maturity versus their emotional/social maturity when deciding at what age and grade to attend with him or her if they’re on the spectrum. Our classes can accommodate spectrum children, and we can also offer classes held at the school they attend. If you have questions or concerns about when to enroll and what will work for your child, please contact our office.
If you’d like more information about Autism, visit autism-society.org.