ASAN Goes All Oscar The Grouch on Sesame Street
By Kim Rossi
When Sesame Street launched in 1969, I was a 5 year old first grader whose teacher dragged the TV on the tall trolley into our classroom so we could all watch this groundbreaking new program. From that day on, I adored Sesame Street for 5 decades. Grover was Mia's first word.
I did not stop watching, or adoring, Sesame Street until they introduced Julia, a character with autism that never, ever struck the right chord with me. While appreciating the effort of introducing a character with autism, the fact that it was a female Muppet never sat right, since autism affects boys far more than girls. Sesame Street has been criticized over the decades for its lack of female characters. The female Muppets like Prairie Dawn and Rosita were ancillary and not main characters. Happy, dancing Zoe became Elmo's friend and was a more visible female presence. Abby Cadabby, a relative newcomer, added little to the program in my opinion. She made magic mistakes and often her Mom had to fix them for her. Hardly a strong role model for girls. And Julia? Introduced in May of 2017, Julia seemed forced, her gender chosen to fill a gap.
Julia's role was to "destigmatize" autism and reduce isolation among autistic children. A fine goal. Except.....
The push to accept autism as a "difference" by a cult-like social movement called "neurodiversity" and an organization called ASAN was involved in developing Julia's character. She was a watered down, autism-like character. Now, we know fully well that if you've met one person with autism, you've met just that - ONE person with autism. But the diagnosis has a list of behavioral criteria that runs true across the gamut of severity. Julia was allowed to show the tip of the autism iceberg. She did not make full eye contact. She did not always seem to be listening. She did not quickly engage with the other characters. All good. But, how would it ever have been possible for a children's TV show, that is supposed to bring joy and happiness to preschoolers, have shown the more serious side of autism? Julia could speak, hardly indicative of autism for many of our families. Sesame Street, now owned by HBO, is edutainment. When it launched, it taught letters and numbers to inner city children who did not have access to preschool. Today, kids from all walks of life and social strata are using smart phone apps and watching educational TV 24 hours a day on channels like Nick Jr. Sesame Street changed with the times, which I always admired. In my home, after my divorce, I discovered Mia searching and listening to a song about parents who live in "different trees". It was a song about divorce. She also searched segments about families, as her own family changed.
ASAN is displeased with an Autism Speaks PSA that featured Julia and that tackled some of the tough issues of autism. The PSA doesn't match the narrative of autism being a gifty, nifty difference. They will only approve of a "Sunny day, sweeping the reality of autism away," to borrow from the iconic Sesame Street song. The PSA had the audacity to use the word, "fight," in it. Oh my stars!! You bet we fight autism - every single day. And no one fights it more than our affected children. There isn't another diagnosis in the world for which to advocate for cure, treatment or improvement is considered verboten. And so ASAN bailed. I'm delighted. Now maybe the leaders at Sesame Street will understand that they were duped by ASAN and can educate themselves by reading a book brought to you by the letters D,E,N,I,A and L. Denial, by Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted.
Kim Rossi is Managing Editor for Age of Autism.
I don't really like the creation of the Julia character either. She doesn't represent autism very well. She comes across as more your typical shy, quirky 4-year-old instead of one with diagnosed autism. They made her female, mostly because the neurodiversity movement think that it is "sexist" that autism is rare in girls. They say that girls are "underdiagnosed" because doctors allegedly dismiss them as "drama queens" or that girls "mask better" (although I'm sure your diagnosed daughters can't mask). Of course, this is what happens when you incorporate intersectionality into everything.
I think that autism started being romanticized in the media when Rain Man came out. Which is a shame, because in the years since, as rates have increased, a lot of parents' first thoughts have been "Autistic like Rain Man?". And they get disappointed as their children aren't as high-functioning. It's honestly a shame that autism is being romanticized to preschoolers. Sesame Street always used to show the reality of bad things (like Mr. Hooper dying). Now it's a sellout to the mainstream media. I consider it a zombie show like the Simpsons.
Posted by: Adela Ludeke | January 24, 2020 at 05:31 PM
Some of you already know this, but for those who don't . . .
I have never watched that show, because one aspect of my own autism is that I am overwhelmed by the concentrated emotion in TV shows and movies. That is particularly true since I took part in the TMS experiments 9 years ago.
So I've read about the Julia controversy but I am not actually a watcher
Posted by: john robison | August 12, 2019 at 02:01 PM
Recognizing that Sesame Street is a story that's meant to be fun for kids, I think it would take some hard thinking to work a kid with greater autistic impairment into the show. Perhaps Julia might have a brother more like Amy Lutz's Jonah, or Kim Rossi's Mia.
It would be a challenge to show that respectfully and in a way that would still be consistent with a fun kid show. That said, I agree that is a good goal.
One of you mentioned my going to meet Amy's family, and anyone who's seen a family like that knows there are many loving and funny interchanges between the various kids where greater disability could be shown, and still be fun. There's a lot of love in the Lutz family, for example, despite the substantial impairment of one of the kids, and a show that put autism in that context could have a strong message.
We can show autism in all sorts of contexts, and we can show all levels of impairment. I agree with you, they should do more
Posted by: john robison | August 12, 2019 at 01:58 PM
I think Sesame Street was trying to do something kind and helpful, to show that Julia could and should be included and loved despite her isolation and lack of participation. What else can anyone recommend or do to increase acceptance and positive feelings toward the autistic? It is an immense problem for all of us, and I don't have the answers. But Sesame Street tried to show how one might treat an autistic child in a positive, friendly, accepting way, despite her unresponsiveness.
Posted by: Cia | August 11, 2019 at 06:32 PM
Will, there are other diagnoses that are sometimes perceived to have ASD-like symptoms. They are not as common as ASD. The diagnoses you mention are all genetic. The majority of ASD cases are not. The majority of brain damage in ASD comes from environmental causes. This site is dedicated to stopping a man-made epidemic of ASD. I think mixing in genetically caused conditions on this site would be a diversion and a dis-service to the children who have been poisoned. I found several foundations and networks, dedicated to your diagnosis. Have you tried being interviewed by any of them? I am sorry if I seem harsh, but I take offense when you refer to people like me as part of a “severe autism lobby”. Not because it is inaccurate, but because it implies you want people like me to be quiet and have less of a voice. Maybe you are trying to hijack a larger audience.
Posted by: Beleaguered Autism Mom | August 11, 2019 at 11:57 AM
I think Will is right that we should be totally accepting of all people who are affected by these related conditions. I've thought that many of the articles recently have been rather repetative, so it might be a good idea to invite some new perspectives. If Will would find it easier to do an article in interview form rather than writing it all himself then maybe that could be a good start. Any offers?
Posted by: Grace Green | August 11, 2019 at 09:03 AM
Will. I do try to respect your comments. However, I am interested to know if you agree with ANY of the articles. If, as it appears, you get cross with all of them, why do you read them?
I have found, over the years, that everyone's ideas are respected and posted but as far as I remember, you appear to only criticise.
I find that upsetting.
Posted by: susan welch | August 11, 2019 at 07:05 AM
When will Sesame Street show people with Asperger's or high functioning autism and serious medical conditions like Tuberous Scleorisis, Neurofibromatosis, Smith-Opitz syndrome, and Fragile X syndrome. YES THEY EXIST! Age of Autism needs to sympathize with these people instead of claiming all with autim are only important if they have a low IQ just like how the Neurodiversity only cares about those with a high IQ and no medical conditions. I am one of them with NF. I would love to have and interviewed with Kim Stagliano and others at Age of Autism about this group of autistic ignored by BOTH the "Neurodiversity" lobby and the "Severe autism" lobby. Let us hav an honest debate and learn about the diverse spectrum of autism.
Posted by: Will | August 10, 2019 at 08:48 PM
This is for Anne Dachel: You may have read it already, but I wanted to alert you to Dr. Lyons-Weiler's post yesterday linking aluminum hydroxide adjuvants to autoimmune encephalopathy, mental illness, and violence. This may be a key to understanding the increasing violence among schoolchildren and society in general.
Posted by: Gary Ogden | August 09, 2019 at 07:40 PM
@Beleaguered Autism Mom - " I would like to put my son in a room with these self-proclaimed neurodiverse advocates, to see how long they hold up their phony front. "
Interesting how seldom this happens...that high functioning individuals on the spectrum are willing to spend time with those who are severely impacted. Here's a link to an article you may enjoy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inspectrum/201907/when-john-met-jonah
John Elder Robison, a neurodiversity advocate and member of the IACC, was invited in 2016 to spend time with a young man who is severely affected with autism. He eventually accepted the invitation in 2019, in the context of a documentary film on autism being developed by Zucker and Donovan (who co-wrote In a Different Key, a history of autism). Read what happens. I've looked for followup to this article, but I haven't seen any.
Amy Lutz, the mom featured in the article, is an autism mom of a severely affected son and is active with the National Council for Severe Autism https://www.ncsautism.org/ They are officially pro-vax, but the organization does do a lot of good in creating awareness of the part of the spectrum that is frequently overlooked.
Posted by: Aimee Doyle | August 09, 2019 at 05:32 PM
Sesame Street would also feature actual children with a whole range of disabilities, however, I haven’t seen or heard of any autistic people being on the program. Ironic considering the cohort of severely autistic adults that have been added to their demographic over the years. Seems as though including people from all walks of life is no longer in keeping with Sesame Street’s brand. Who are the people NOT in you neighborhood?! It may be time to move.
Posted by: annie | August 09, 2019 at 03:48 PM
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Just released on Utube, with just 7 views so far… ‘enjoy’ would not be quite the right word. Inspiring perhaps is better. Don’t forget to click on like!
“In the center of the recent Tribeca Film Festival scandal surrounding his film VAXXED: From Cover-up to Controversy stands Andrew Wakefield, discredited and stripped of his medical license for his infamous study suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease, and autism. THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST takes us into the inner sanctum of Wakefield and his family from 2011- 2016 as he fights for his day in court in a little known defamation case against the British Medical Journal. Wakefield attempts to clear his name as the media-appointed Father of the Anti-vaccine movement. Director Miranda Bailey weaves a delicate portrait of a man who is THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST utilizing a never-before-seen, full access look at the man at the center of one of the biggest medical and media controversies of our times.”
Posted by: Pogo | August 09, 2019 at 01:10 PM
It makes me mad that you can google ASAN and get propaganda served immediately, but if you search for Age of Autism, you have to scroll through 20 plus pages. (I hope the real ASAN- Asan Institute for Policy Studies takes back their name soon.) Google wants it to appear that the neurodiverse champions vastly outnumber those individuals with involuntary movements, noises and inability to communicate that make them off-putting to other people. Hmm, why would Google want to do that? Could it be due to their financial arrangement with GSK? I would like to put my son in a room with these self-proclaimed neurodiverse advocates, to see how long they hold up their phony front. ASAN is based in Washington DC and opposed Kevin and Avonte’s Law, to provide money to fight wandering behavior in autistic children.
Posted by: Beleaguered Autism Mom | August 09, 2019 at 11:22 AM
Sesame Street was an excellent show when my older son, who does not have autism, used to watch it in the 1980's. I watched it with him and he loved the show and all the great characters and humor that was employed to teach children basic letter and number recognition skills. My younger son, who has autism, watches the old shows on YouTube and loves it too because the show was so much better in those days. Today Sesame Street is not the same quality show it once was and it is a shame that it has changed so much for the worse. I would rather watch the old shows on YouTube with my son who has autism and enjoy and remember what a quality show it used to be.
Posted by: Gayle | August 09, 2019 at 11:12 AM
Surely some of us must remember when that creepy-looking former Surgeon General used Sesame Street's Elmo to promote vaccines. It was around 2015. That would have been enough to turn me off of Sesame Street forever had I been a fan in the first place.
Posted by: M. | August 09, 2019 at 10:12 AM
Hi - I know Frank a little bit. He weathered similar personal events as I - another perspective might be that he pushed what they WANTED to do to get Julia where she was at all. And who knows how much input he was allowed to have. I too crafted a job and try to make a living speaking - and many people do not like me at all. I had an engagement cancelled last year - because autism parents complained about me. C is for cookie and consideration! Thanks - KIM
Posted by: Managing Editor | August 09, 2019 at 09:37 AM
One of the most pathetic aspects of this is that Frank Campagna, aka Autism Daddy (blog), works for Sesame Street and had a small part in creating Julia despite the fact that he is the father of a teen son with autism who is very severely affected. Frank is nothing but another useless attention seeking blogger/and now speaker (oh yes, he takes his BS on the road now) if you ask me. He certainly is NOT an effective advocate for autism. Sesame Street is showing one very small part of the autism spectrum to the world and misleading people who are watching, who have no idea how the majority of autism really presents and how it affects the individuals and their families. Sesame Street is effectively dismissing the majority of severely affected individuals.
Sesame Street and Autism Daddy putting out the message that Julia represents autism only makes it that much more difficult for families who need supports and services and to be taken seriously and that autism is NOT just failing to listen and having a difficult time making friends. It's about extremely severe issues that affect the individual with autism and everyone in the family.
Here is a just a small sampling of Frank and his sell out bullsh*t from April 2019! Julia is going to be shown getting a haircut. What a joke. If they only could show the true side of doing something like this for a severely affected individual...but that will never happen because putting out a false spin on autism is Sesame Street's goal. Sickening.
Frank is all his BS glory:
"So I just wanted to write a quick blog post to point you towards Sesame Street’s new autism content launching this week!
In celebration of Autism Acceptance Month this April, we have released new resources focused on bullying, which disproportionately affects children with autism. These resources are available on autism in both English and Spanish."
There’s also an all-new episode with Julia airing Monday, April 8th on HBO and PBS Kids that features Julia getting her haircut! We know how much of a challenge that can be for kids on the spectrum!
Posted by: no longer watch S Street | August 09, 2019 at 09:12 AM