It has been more than two years since Sesame Street first introduced their first autistic character, Julia, to the television program.
The creation of Julia began in 2010 when Sesame decided it was finally time to focus their efforts on an autism initiative.
Recently, Sesame Street teamed with the Ad Council to create PSAs that advocate for the “Screen for Autism” program by Autism Speaks.
Check out the PSAs below.
To the average viewer who has little to no experience with autism, the videos seem harmless and charming.
However, on Monday the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) announced that they would no longer be working with Sesame Street.
According to HuffPost, ASAN feels as though the children’s program is choosing to:
“further stigmatize autistic children and adults.”
According to the source article, Autism Speaks is considered to be a “controversial nonprofit”. Part of the controversy is because their “Screen for Autism” initiative includes the “100 Day Kit”.
This kit is for parents of newly diagnosed children and, according to ASAN, the kit:
- “encourages parents to blame family stress on their autistic child”
- “spend time with their non-autistic children remembering how things were better before their sibling’s diagnosis”
- “to go through the five stages of grief after learning that their child is autistic, ‘as they would if the child had died'”
Autism Speaks has been controversial for some time among people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They accuse the group of centered on caregivers—not people with ASD, portraying the neurotypical as victims of a family member with ASD, misusing funds and demonizing and dehumanizing those with ASD as a problem to be dealt with and not a person.
In response the phrase “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me” became popular online.
People are frustrated and saddened by Sesame Street’s partnership with “Screen for Autism” and Autism Speaks.
"'Sesame Street' Under Fire For PSAs About Autism That Add 'Further Stigma'" I never got over their moving to a pay-per-view channel. @sesamestreet used to be beacon for poor families. And now they're schills for the most offensive autorg out there? Sad. https://t.co/z00PaknQQg pic.twitter.com/2KObo9mwQs— Michael John Carley (@mjcarley) August 7, 2019
The decision for Sesame Street to endorse Autism Speaks using Julia, the first Autistic muppet, is nothing short of heartbreaking— Black Disability Collective (@BlackDisability) August 5, 2019
As an autistic person, and a parent of an autistic kid, deep thanks for this.— Miss Placed (@MissPlaced14) August 7, 2019
There aren't enough words to express how disturbing & dehumanizing A$ is. That Sesame Street knows better, and still chooses to spread fear & propaganda for them is heartbreaking.
I love Sesame Street but seeing them collaborate with Autism Speaks (Who want to CURE autism, something many autistics don’t want and treating autism like it’s a disease), saddens and infuriates me. #DontSupportAutismSpeaks#sesamestreet pic.twitter.com/EN0MFtExMj— Fanta_Moon 🌈 (@OrangeMoonSoda) August 4, 2019
We support @autselfadvocacy and are disappointed with @sesamestreet. @autismspeaks has been harmful to actually autistic people and funded anti vax research. Julia is an important character. We hope Sesame Street rethinks it’s partnerships. #CripTheVote https://t.co/NyjdZ4n0Q4— WMDisabilityCaucus (@WMDisability) August 7, 2019
this thing with Sesame Street and autism speaks is really bothering me. i know the harm this organization can do. Sesame Street is supposed to lead the way on inclusion, diversity, and acceptance, but they goofed this one. @sesamestreet: Autism Speaks does NOT speak for Julia.— Ross Foster (@originalhedwwig) August 6, 2019
Educators should know the difference between autistic self-advocacy and organizations like autism speaks that further stigma and advocate traumatizing methods. Think critically about your autism community support https://t.co/JbZNR2DboC— Gia Howard (G. H.) Greer (@GhGreer) August 7, 2019
So I’m super disappointed about Sessme Street’s decision to partner with Autism speaks. I don’t want to speak over those who are #ActuallyAutistic especially because that’s exactly what that org does but those who know me know that I love Sesame Street too much to say nothing— Alància Laneé (@Elly_Mo_Mo) August 6, 2019
Dear @sesamestreet,— autistictic (@autistictic) August 6, 2019
why have you decided to go against autistic people and chose to work with and promote Autism Speaks, despite having been educated about how harmful they are?
The #ActuallAutistic community is looking at you and needs answers.
Sesame Workshop has since defended their partnership with Autism Speaks’ “Screen for Autism”.
“This campaign enables us to reach more families than ever — particularly those in communities where the average age of diagnosis is much higher — and help them understand the possibilities that an autism diagnosis can bring.”
For an organization purporting to support education, it looks like Sesame Workshop needs to do a little research on what the “Screen for Autism” package from Autism Speaks really contains.