I wanted to share some quick thoughts on the latest news about Sesame Street adding a new character with Autism. Here’s some more background information.
First, I’m thrilled that the autism community will be represented on Sesame Street, a truly iconic television show. Simply put, Sesame Street introducing a character with autism is fantastic. One of the strongest forces for improving a group’s treatment is representation. When you don’t appear in media at all, it reinforces for you the idea that you’re not “normal” and that not being normal is bad. You’re never the main character of a story, and never the person who succeeds. Stories are about other, different people, not people like you. On top of that, it means other people don’t see you either. It allows stereotypes to spread more easily, as there’s no countering force.
One of the sad things about autism in recent times has been the fact that there are many characters that are “potentially autistic.” Often the traits that mirror autistic traits are shown as a form of comic relief – the audience is expected to laugh at them when they do something unexpected, rather than with them as an empathetic character. In other cases, autism is often portrayed, but portrayed as an extremely thin slice of the disorder.
Often, these characters are so severely affected that they can’t express any real independence, and they typically have savant traits that really just aren’t that common in the community. Another group regularly shown are the “good autistics.” The people with autism who are just a bit quirky, and interact with the world in a slightly weird way, but it doesn’t significantly affect their lives. And when problems do come up, they can solve them by trying harder. Seeing these people can really make you feel like you’re not “doing it right.” And that if you can’t beat your autism, or turn it into a strength, you’re failing.
What we really benefit from is showing autistic individuals as “just people.” Everyone has struggles in their lives. For me, autism is one of them. But people with autism are also just people. We want to play games. Some of us are extroverts, some introverts. Some of us are quiet, some of us love motion and noise.
Autism changes how we experience life, but it doesn’t change that we’re people too, and judging by what I know about the character in Sesame Street, it sounds like she’ll be showing off some of that.
Representation is great, when it portrays us as part of “all of us” and not as some unique, stand-out to be observed. Just recently, we also saw Blizzard confirm that one of their characters in Overwatch is definitely on the spectrum, and I’m really hoping that as we move into the year, this may be the start of the “mainstreaming” not just of particular autistic individuals, but the disorder as a whole.
It’s really about time people start understanding a bit more about what it means to be autistic.
I hope you enjoyed the post!