Sesame Place Is Honoring Autism Awareness Month in a Way That Will Benefit Autistic Children for Years to Come
In 2017, Sesame Street introduced a new character, Julia, a yellow Muppet preschooler who has autism. Julia exhibits behaviors that are associated with people who have an autism spectrum diagnosis, such as difficulty maintaining eye contact and repetitive speech.
The children’s program has always featured a diverse cast of Muppet and human characters to represent the neighborhood’s different ethnic, racial, age, gender, and monster groups, and its commitment to portraying a complex and realistic community extends to characters who experience medical differences. Linda, a deaf librarian; Tarah, a girl with osteogenesis imperfecta who uses a wheelchair; and Kami, a Muppet with HIV, show young viewers that people with disabilities or health challenges are part of everyone’s neighborhoods.
Sacramento resident Sandra Levario said her grandson loved to play in her backyard as a toddler. Levario’s house lies in the shadow of a now-shuttered gun range. Despite its closure in 2014 and the fact that toxic levels of lead dust had coated nearly every surface of the building for years, the public was not informed of the lead hazard. But after her grandson developed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Levario suspected a connection to lead poisoning. “Now I won’t let my grandkids even play in the yard.”
There are an estimated 3.5 million Americans on the autism spectrum, a number that continues to grow. An estimated 50,000 people on the spectrum enter adulthood – and the potential workforce – each year.
Though many on the spectrum are considered high functioning, recent research finds that 40 percent of young autistic adults are unable to find employment. Across all ages, the number is even more staggering – with some research showing that upwards of 80 percent of those who fall on the spectrum are unemployed, despite the majority wanting employment.