On April 10th, Sesame Street will debut their new character Julia, who has autism. I’ve put the playlist of all of Sesame Street’s clips of Julia before her big debut during Autism Awareness Month in April, as well as a few other mentions of autism on Sesame Street. So, today, let’s look at Julia, and two more kids TV shows with autism representation.
Firstly, obviously, we have Sesame Street and Julia. But back in 2015, they released The Amazing Song, and some stories on their community YouTube channel about autism, and have been advocates for raising awareness for a long time. So, let’s talk about Julia. Julia is played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, whose son has autism, hopes that with characters like Julia, children will become aware of children who might need a few little changes to play between other kids to make them welcome. She said that, had a character like Julia existed in the past,
“…they might not have been frightened…They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s okay…It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like.”
Julia likes to jump up and down and flap her hands when she’s happy, behaviours that might be familiar to parents of children who have autism. Big Bird, a familiar character to anyone who’s heard of the show, thinks maybe Julia doesn’t like him, because she doesn’t say anything when she’s introduced to him, but the others let him know that it’s not that, she just didn’t want to say anything. Her hand flapping and bouncing actually make some fun games for her and her friends, like boing boing tag and pretending to be butterflies flapping their wings! Julia is a great character to show that not only is autism okay, it can mean kids who suffer with it can actually think of stuff that their peers might not have!
Arthur is a TV show I grew up with, and after seeing this episode, I remembered why I still have such a soft spot for it. In the episode When Carl Met George, George the moose meets a new friend, Carl, a rabbit. Carl has Asperger’s Syndrome, and is in a total of 8 episodes (thank you Arthur Wiki…). At first, George is worried he’s upset Carl somehow, because Carl gets distressed when George shows him his dummy, Wally. I don’t blame Carl; that dummy is absolutely horrifying. Carl is amazing at drawing, especially trains, which he has dozens of books about and knows the intricate details of many models. As well as this, he can draw well, and likes doing puzzles like jigsaws. By his second appearance in the show, he also likes rockets and space too. His mother helps to explain to George what Asperger’s is, and what it means that Carl has it. The Brain (aka Alan) also tells George about his own uncle Keith, who has Asperger’s too, and describes it to George in a (very accurate) metaphor of being like left on a new planet without a guidebook! With more knowledge, George becomes a good friend to Carl. The highlight of this episode for me, was The Brain’s description of Asperger’s, and what it’s like, the clip of which I have embedded below. You can find the full episode on YouTube.
Girl Meets World
This is where I get a little hesitant, though whether I ought to be or not is debatable. In this episode (called both Girl Meets Farkle, and Girl Meets I Am Farkle – I couldn’t figure out which was the true title as sources online differed a lot) one of the main characters, Farkle, undergoes testing for Asperger’s. He has a very high IQ, and his school counsellor feels he should undergo some testing. Farkle and his family are very open about the whole situation, which I think was a really nice message, when a lot of people are very ‘hush hush’ about the whole diagnostic process and ASD in general. The one moment I did find a little jarring was that, when Farkle did open up about his situation, his friends were adamant that he didn’t have any condition, he was just Farkle, and who Farkle was just happened to be a little eccentric. This initial reaction of fear or confusion, of course, happens a lot in real life, and perhaps by criticising it I am criticising Girl Meets World and their attention to real life detail and portrayal. However, they did change my opinion by the end, at which point (spoiler) it transpires that Farkle doesn’t have Asperger’s – but that one of the other minor characters does. She is called Isadora, and after she extends a hand of support and friendship to Farkle during his diagnosis, he does the same to her in return. When he asks if he can hug her, she tells him she doesn’t like hugs much, but wouldn’t mind if he hugged her, telling him not to stop when he pulls back. Girl Meets World is possibly a more humorous portrayal than the other two examples, with the standard Disney Channel humour. However, it is immensely refreshing to see such a popular show on such a popular channel tackle topics like ASD, and raise awareness for them.
If you’re a parent, carer, or friend of a person with autism – particularly a child – maybe you’d like to show them these clips. If you have any thoughts, or any other shows you thought got it right, let me know below. Maybe we’ll do one for shows aimed at older audiences soon!
Stay safe, friends. x