We just found another reason to love Sesame Street. Not only does the show and its characters enthusiastically teach kids about numbers and letters, but it recently took another huge step forward to promote inclusivity toward children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Sesame Place, a children’s theme park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, recently announced it is the first theme park in the world to receive the designation of a Certified Autism Center.
This means the park’s entire staff has completed autism sensitivity and awareness training to understand the specific needs and reactions of children who have autism. Plus, since kids with ASD may be more sensitive to noise, the park has designated quiet areas to allow families to enter a calm space during their visit.
This breakthrough comes just two-and-a-half years after Sesame Street introduced the world to Julia, a muppet character who has autism. Julia first appeared in the storybook, We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3! and the Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children app, a tool for parents and caregivers with children on the autism spectrum. “Children with autism are often underrepresented or incorrectly represented,” says Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., the senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop. “We have been able to show through Julia that she has so many things in common with her friends but that she also has some super-stuff she can do, too.”
The Sesame Street and Autism app and corresponding website offer resources and videos for children, families, and caretakers to better understand autism and overcome challenges they may face. One of the popular components includes interactive routine cards, which walk children and parents through a variety of moments that they often have questions about like teeth brushing and crossing the street. A new set of cards releasing soon will cover getting a haircut, going to the store, and attending a birthday party.
“Sesame Street’s mission is to help all children grow stronger, smarter, and kinder,” says Dr. Betancourt. “We respond to what we hear—both in the autism community and the general public—because our research has indicated that this is bringing so much more understanding and education across both communities.”
As if that wasn’t enough, tune in on April 9 for an all-new Sesame Street episode in which Julia and her muppet friends play a shape-spotting game and Julia uses her unique perspective to find shapes no one else notices. “Whether it’s through our programs, products, books, or family engagement work, Julia is able to help people understand and connect with each other despite differences,” says Dr. Betancourt. Here’s to pushing forward on inclusiveness!