Our Mixed Emotions On Sesame Street’s Julia

So Em and I talked about Julia. See I’m hesitant about Julia, Sesame Street’s Autistic Character, but have HOPES that she will foster understanding in a younger crowd for the future, POTENTIONALY. And that is good.

Em is THRILLED about the idea of Julia. The idea that kids who are younger will have this in their corner. I just have mixed feelings about it. The main thoughts (and Em and I talked and some she agrees with) are:

1. It’s in the digital world… It’s not on the show. We really need to have Julia on the show. Autistic individuals often do more in the digital world and it does give them a character to relate too (which is exciting in itself) BUT we have a lot of children around the preschool-kindergarten age who watch the show ONLY. If we want to make a difference and foster dialog – put her on the show.

2. What KIND of autism are they going to portray? The spectrum is so vast and children who are like Em tend to fall through the cracks because they don’t have many “outward” traits. There will people screaming from all sides about Julia’s autism. Our community gets up in arms and is passionate about Autism. It’s a fine line. And since every case of Autism is different (especially once you talk comorbid conditions) that it’s going to be hard to have Julia live up to the hype and expectation. And backlash isn’t what this should turn into.

3. The bullying for Em didn’t start at that preschool-kindergarten age… it started in 3rd grade and up. While if we start fostering these conversations, maybe kids won’t have to go through what Em does/did. And perhaps the trickle down effect will start and it will slowly diminish. It’s a high hope. But we do believe in conversations and starting points.

4. Em’s too old for it now. By her own words. She’s happy that there is this character out there but she doesn’t feel like she’s there for her. Sadly. We’re happy Julia is out there but only time will tell how she can change perceptions. If anyone can do it, it’ll be Sesame Street. I guess we are just sad that it’s taken so long for this to happen.

5. And how do we now start to reach towards spreading this love and awareness with kids that are older. Disney dropped the ball in the Girl Meets World episode. They could have embraced and helped bring Asperger’s to a place of understanding daily. Everytime organizations and media gets close, they drop the ball. I’m glad that finally Sesame Street had the courage to do what so many others have shirked away from. We know that we have to start somewhere, and it’s a good place to start. But really the question now becomes, how do we help those getting bullied NOW? How do we help those who are older and don’t watch Sesame Street anymore?

So please don’t read MY hesitation as a disapproval of this. I’m hesitant because I want this done right and well. From what I’ve seen and what I know (and who’s involved behind the scenes), I’m thrilled. And I have a lot of HOPE for what it stands for. Just a lot of mixed up emotions here. That whole, where was this for Em kind of thing. And how do we challenge other organizations to bring more mainstream characters in who aren’t stereotypical autistic individuals?

And as I expected, I took some heat for that post on FB, for being honest about my mixed feelings about Sesame Street and Julia. BUT it’s ok. We had conversations. But some still seem to think I’m upset or angry about Julia. Or that I’m mad at Sesame Street.

Not at all. I’m thankful that they are attempting to do this. I hope that they do MORE with her than the digital realm. I want to see her on the show. Maybe not all the time but regularly enough to keep her in the kids minds.

The mixed feelings come from the fact… Em’s not going to have Julia to help her peers understand her. Julia’s not going to help Em’s situation. Em won’t have this character to relate too. She’s missed that train born too late, so to speak.

The mixed feelings come from me wanting to spur on and PUSH other major media outlets to do something for the older kids. To help them. Growing up ~ totally going to age myself here ~ we had the ABC afterschool specials to help foster discussions on things. Sometimes schools even had programs that worked with those programs.

There is an elephant in the room. We need to start helping our kids understand it and address it. Avoiding it out of fear of being uncomfortable is not the answer. AND when having a respectful discussion (like we did here yesterday) it brings about understanding and thought processes. While uncomfortable briefly, eventually the discussion is easier and easier.

Em in the long run would rather try to help someone understand her than contend with being called names or being pushed around. We as her family would rather try to help someone understand than to watch helplessly in some cases.

It’s easier to fit into a community if they show a desire to get to know you and love you. We always were hesitant in sharing Em’s story. Until we had a family, Jon and Nicki, approach us. They knew Em long before they knew us. And one thing stands out in my head to this day… They adored her. Loved her to pieces. And told us how she “owned her autism” and that she didn’t hide anything back.

That family is one reason we continue to “own her” autism. And we continue to “fight” to tell her story. Em’s life will be better because of the challenges she faces and overcomes, because of the people there cheering her on. Now imagine for a second, if it was just her and 3 other people vs. all those daily challenges. I’m not sure how it’d turn out.

So yes, we are happy about Julia. The question is where do we go from here? We HAVE to. We HAVE to start fighting media stereotypes. We HAVE to stop assumptions and start having conversations. We MUST stop the bullying of ALL kids and adults… and start protecting the vulnerable ones by letting them know, they aren’t alone.

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