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‘Sesame Street’ Faces Backlash For Autism Awareness PSAs That Some Say Are Doing More Harm Than Good

Ad Council/YouTube

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 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.

The book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism is available here.


Written by B Miller

Travel lover, dog Mom, Slytherin, future wifey.