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The Verge of Julia's Independence

By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" Blog Series - Slice #19



Image by Fandom via [Julia-Muppet.jpg]


My mom used to always tell me, that when I was a baby, I would always sit in my crib and watch the preschool television series Sesame Street. From it, I learned about letters, sounds, vowels, sentences, and other elements of the English language that helped me learn how to read on my own on a 1st reading level by the time I got to kindergarten. Sesame Street would later on play another major role in my life in 2015, with the debut of their newest character Julia who has autism. Looking back on it now, I can truly say Julia’s arrival to Sesame Street was a beautiful historic moment for Sesame Street. It gave strength and empowerment to the autism community, and it taught people how to treat those who are different from them so they can feel welcomed, respected, and accepted. Four-year-old me would have loved watching Julia on screen from my crib, especially since Julia is four-years old herself. Having Julia in my life at a younger age would have made me feel like I had a best friend I could relate to, but I’m glad that Julia is here now to be a relatable friend for all audiences.

According to an article titled, Why the Team Behind Sesame Street Created a Character With Autism, Julia already has grown a community of friends in which they see themselves in her. As stated by Journalist and Author Ron Suskind, “The most impressive evidence of Julia’s power came from people with autism, who saw something they’d never seen before: a reflection of themselves.” Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Julia has turned an emotional milestone into a frightening concern. This frightening concern comes from the controversy of The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) choosing to cut ties with Sesame Street resulting from the television show joining forces with another organization known as Autism Speaks. As a result of this shocking alliance, many people felt a sense of betrayal from the Sesame Street Program as stated by Autistic Self Advocate and Director of ASAN Julia Bascom in an article titled How a ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet became embroiled in a controversy over autism, “I think part of why people feel so let down right now is that ‘Sesame Street,’ as a show, is very, very personal to a lot of our members and a lot of people in the autistic community,” In another article titled, Trouble on Sesame Street, NOS Magazine Founder Sara Luterman explains Julia’s harmful role for Autism Speaks when she states, “Julia is being used to promote a resource that suggests parents of newly diagnosed autistic children go through the five stages of grief for their (still-living) child, among other regressive and dangerous narratives about autism.” Last month I watched an Autism Speaks commercial featuring Elmo, Julia, and her brother, and it really scared me to see Julia be used as a prop for their agenda.

According to an article titled, Why the Team Behind Sesame Street Created a Character With Autism, Julia already has grown a community of friends in which they see themselves in her. As stated by Journalist and Author Ron Suskind, “The most impressive evidence of Julia’s power came from people with autism, who saw something they’d never seen before: a reflection of themselves.” Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Julia has turned an emotional milestone into a frightening concern. This frightening concern comes from the controversy of The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) choosing to cut ties with Sesame Street resulting from the television show joining forces with another organization known as Autism Speaks. As a result of this shocking alliance, many people felt a sense of betrayal from the Sesame Street Program as stated by Autistic Self Advocate and Director of ASAN Julia Bascom in an article titled How a ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet became embroiled in a controversy over autism, “I think part of why people feel so let down right now is that ‘Sesame Street,’ as a show, is very, very personal to a lot of our members and a lot of people in the autistic community,” In another article titled, Trouble on Sesame Street, NOS Magazine Founder Sara Luterman explains Julia’s harmful role for Autism Speaks when she states, “Julia is being used to promote a resource that suggests parents of newly diagnosed autistic children go through the five stages of grief for their (still-living) child, among other regressive and dangerous narratives about autism.” Last month I watched an Autism Speaks commercial featuring Elmo, Julia, and her brother, and it really scared me to see Julia be used as a prop for their agenda.

People need to truly understand Julia’s role on Sesame Street. She’s more than just a girl with autism, and she’s more than just a girl who reflects the autism community, Julia is a girl who represents the meaning of independence. She represents the meaning of being free to be yourself and have people love and accept you as equally as anyone else. She is seen and treated as a human being who happens to think differently than everyone else, but her differences don’t make her strange, complex, or a burden, they make her a normal person who is welcomed whole-heartedly by her community as they make the appropriate accommodations needed to make her more included. By putting Julia in the hands of an organization such as Autism Speaks, you put her in a harmful situation where she is stripped away from her independence and becomes subjected to changing herself to blend in like everyone else. That’s why Sesame’s Street’s partnership with Autism Speaks rubbed so many people the wrong way because it reminded people on the spectrum the status quo standards that society always had for them as stated by Julia Bascom, “The controversy touched a nerve for many autistic adults who say they grew up being taught to conform to the world, rather than being encouraged to find their place in it.” The Verge of Independence Project is all about promoting independence, self-advocacy, and social confidence for young autistic adults on the spectrum and Julia is another person who reminds me how important doing that really is.

In conclusion, I hope this blog post helps you understand Julia’s role not only in Sesame Street, but also in society as well. I also hope that by understanding Julia’s role in life you will understand the seriousness of the situation. Julia is a beautiful character whose independence of being welcomed and accepted as herself should not be diminished by organizations such as Autism Speaks. Like many others, I hope that one day Sesame Street will reconsider their current partnership and realize the significance of the situation. Julia is the first character on Sesame Street to represent the autism community wherein autism can be seen as a normal part of life and not something to be scared and afraid of. I hope that The Autism Self Advocacy Network will get themselves involved in a partnership with Sesame Street again so that Julia can continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives and teach the world the importance of including and accepting those who are different from others.


















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