Tag Archives: education

Meet Julia: Sesame Street’s First Autistic Character

Sesame Street is incredibly nostalgic for me – I used to watch it every lunch time with my mother whilst eating shepherds pie after a morning at pre-school. Random. Anyway, Sesame Street is a truly iconic American show that seems as immortal and recognisable as The Simpsons. The difference between this and other kids shows is that Sesame Street was created (in 1969) as an experiment with the intention of finding out whether television could be used to educate young children. We now know how influential both TV shows and adverts can be on children. Since, they’ve written story lines ranging from basic learning skills to race issues and even coping with death.
On April 10th, “Sesame Street” aired the special episode “Meet Julia” on HBO to introduce viewers to their newest character. Julia was created as part of the ‘Sesame Workshop’ (the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street), alongside their autism initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children’For years, Sesame Street received requests from parents to feature storylines surrounding autism, so Stacey Gordon (plays ‘Julia’, below) and Christine Ferraro (the writer of the “Meet Julia” episode) who both have close family relationships helped bring this character to life. Stacey was uniquely placed to take on the job as her son has autism: “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviours through something they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, 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 OK.”

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A common concern amongst parents of autistic children is how their peers will understand, communicate with them and treat them. As autism has such a broad spectrum, the team wanted to ensure that Julia was represented based on extensive research into common traits of kids with learning difficulties.

Bringing Julia to life as a Sesame Street Muppet is the centrepiece of all of our new materials to support families of children with autism. The response from the autism community to See Amazing in all Children has been extraordinary, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of autism, as part of our mission of helping all children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder – Sherrie Westin, EVP of Global Impact and Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop

Although the team were cautious regarding the representation of such a broad learning difficulty in just one character, writer Christine wants Julia to exist as herself, rather than be known as “the autistic one”. Aside from this, the main aim is to teach viewers about inclusion, understanding and patience. I don’t know if it’s the childhood personal tie I have with Sesame Street, but watching the intro video above actually made me quite emotional – the way in which Julia is represented is so endearing and gentle, with Big Bird patiently trying to understand all the facts about her learning difficulty. Scenes include Julia meeting new people, the relation between autism and eye contact, common physical reactions like “flapping”, becoming overwhelmed when she hears sirens and the heartwarming scene where they all join in on Julia’s version of ‘tag’.

The most important part of this well-written storyline is how they have steered away from Julia’s differences being the source of confusion or fear, and instead created the narrative to focus on the rest of the muppets enjoying their relationships and having fun. Whilst parts of Julia’s behaviour were clearly explained to Big Bird and the viewers, the main focus was on integrating Julia into the group, like all the other muppets. My heart has melted!
It just goes to show that whilst TV can be a very scary place for easily influenced children, creatives and marketers can use their platform to educate in a way that has never been done before.

 

P.S. take a look at the comments on the YouTube video – lots of users have praised the creation of Julia as something they wish they could have seen on TV as children.
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Debi Jackson reading “That’s Good Enough”

Debi shares the story of her daughter, who transitioned from male to female when she was four years old. She challenges the ignorant comments she hears. 

Who else is crying their eyes out?! Love this lady.

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Gender Equality and Education

Something I have been thinking about for the past week is the level of education regarding gender equality. I cannot recall ever being fully informed (both biologically and psychologically) about transgenders in school.

The work of Drew Ashlyn (from the amazing programme ‘My Transsexual Summer’) is very inspiring. She educates people about the LGBT community, particularly transgenderism.
I believe it should be mandatory for schools to have a gender and sexuality pastoral topic on the syllabus. I cannot speak for myself about being transgender like Drew can, but in the future I would absolutely love to campaign for this and make my views public.
I think with this level of knowledge, children who feel like they have been born in the wrong body may perhaps feel more ‘normal’ if everybody knows the psychological and physiological aspects of transgenderism. Anorexia, depression, self harm are all becoming less stigmatised due to education, so I think it is essential that gender and sexuality be part of a child’s pastoral education.

I really believe not enough people are knowledgeable about transsexualism, leading to stereotypes and incorrect facts.

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So, as you can tell, I am an atheist…

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel about religion:

 One thing that really annoys me is when people say “that’s not very Christian of you!” or “you won’t go to hell if you do this or that”, and apparently if you murder, rape or abuse people, as long as you repent your sins before death, you’ll go to heaven. Sorry, but it’s not “very Christian” of the sick priests and vicars who take advantage of their position to abuse young boys form their Church. NO BUT WE MUSTN’T TALK ABOUT THAT! No, we must not talk about the fact that religious figures sexually abuse innocent young boys in their oh so holy place.

Religion is just a load of contradictory rubbish. It is absolutely impossible to follow the Bible. No one even does, people just decide to pick out certain bits and go along with it.

And what does being a Christian have to do with being a good person? I’m a fucking good person, I tell you that, I do SO much for people, but I’m an atheist. My mum is an atheist and she spends so much of her time helping out all the old neighbours – she’s always getting their shopping, fixing things for them, driving them to and from the hospital … one once said to her “you’re a good Christian for doing this”, why can’t she just say she’s a good person?!

I don’t do good things for other people, treat others with respect and cease judgement on people because I want to go to a good place when I die, I do it because I want to. Because it’s what decent human being should do without the thought of gaining something at the end of it.

If you’re religious and your God(s) help you when times are tough, then that’s great, but I HATE it when it’s pushed in my face. Don’t preach to me about bullshit that I know more about than you do. I was brought up a Christian, my boyfriend is from a Catholic family, my two aunts are extremely religious, I went to Church for about 10 years, I own two Bibles, I gained an A in Religious Studies GCSE, I leisurely study the Bible’s meanings and quotes, I watch documentaries, I read books about religion, I read articles about religion…. the list goes on. I think most people assume Atheists are ill-knowledged, but I bet pound for a penny I know more about every religion than most religious people. I can quote from the Bible with who wrote what. Ask any homophobic Christian who exactly wrote that being gay is an “abomination” and where it came from, and I BET they do not have a clue.

And that’s what angers me – talk all you like about your religion, but if you’re claiming things from hear-say or from what your parents have told you, then you are not a proper ‘Christian’. If anything, it’s insulting to your own religion, and it’s insulting to those who do take their religion seriously and actually know their holy book inside-out!

Additionally, there are a few main reasons as to why exactly I am an atheist. Firstly, unlike most Christians, I do not deny actual scientific proof (because I’m not an imbecile, of course). Evolution isn’t just a made up theory – there are actual fossils, skeletons … current animals and us humans are proof of evolution. Honestly, anyone who denies that is just terribly uneducated and I feel rather embarrassed to have a conversation with anyone in denial of such evident facts. Secondly, I see the story of Jesus as a myth – I believe he was a real person, but I don’t believe the stories. Let’s take the story of ‘Adam and Eve’ as an example: if this were true, we would all be retarded. There is no scientific way Adam and Eve and their children could have carried on breeding without creating disfigured and/or disabled babies – take a look at the 8-legged babies in India that are the result of incest. Regardless, even denying that they were just a story means that Adam and Eve are incestrial aaaaaand isn’t that a bit fucked up?… Plus, the story of Noah and the Ark? Really? What about the dinosaurs we have in museums across the world? What about BC – Egyptians, Greeks etc … why has the Bible completely chosen to ignore their existence? Anyway, as my second point, I meant that I see Christianity the same as I see the Greek myths. People used to believe that the Greek Gods and Goddesses were just as real as religious people believe their God(s) are real! I really do not see a difference. It’s just another cult belief – there was no proof then, are there’s no proof now. Thirdly, I believe religion creates hate. Homophobia stems from Christianity (post Christianity, orgies and bisexuality was so common in Greece – that’s where Paul, in the Bible, wrote his disgust for homosexual acts) and I do not see religion as an excuse for discrimination. Not just that. but the Bible discriminates and suppresses women, making it clear that men own women (domestic violence is allowed) whilst giving contradictory references to cheating on your wife. There’s basically a lot of contradiction and hatred, and I HATE that. Religion is no excuse for hatred, and I cannot be a part of something that preaches such disgusting things. If you’re not aware of the extent of discrimination religion brings, Google ‘God Hates Fags’.

 

I hope I haven’t offended anyone, I’m just telling the truth and expressing my opinion. I do not support hate, suppression and idiocy, so I do not support religion.

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