The Importance of Autistic People Seeing Reflections of Ourselves in Media – Sesame Street, Julia and Me

I kept seeing a link over and over again in my facebook feed yesterday and today which got my attention, plus a friend shared it on my wall. Once I saw what it was all about I hit the “share” button and started to type out how it made me feel. It quickly became something that belonged here on Echoes of Mermaids and not a fb post.

LINK ⇒  http://www.people.com/article/sesame-street-introduces-autistic-muppet

Fuzzy favorites Grover, Abby and Elmo are joined by their newest muppet pal, Julia, a character with autism, in Sesame Street Workshop‘s new nationwide initiative.”

                                             Meet Julia!! She’s Autistic!

image (c) Sesame Workshop/Marybeth Nelson

image (c) Sesame Workshop/Marybeth Nelson

If you’re NeuroTypical (LINKhttp://musingsofanaspie.com/2013/01/10/what-is-neurotypical/) you might not understand what a big deal this all is, and that’s okay because it’s probably not part of your life experience unless there are Autistic people in your life. So let me tell you why this means so much to me as an Autistic person.

I was born in 1969, the same year as Sesame Street as it goes. I’m actually 8 months older! How special and really life saving it’s been to grow up with them, to have our beginnings intermingled as they have. It’s lucky I even got to see it! Growing up in rural East coast Canada we only had 2 channels — 3 when we could tune in the French one. So this show was a standout not only in its content, but also its longevity.

I can’t ever remember not feeling different from everyone else in fundamental ways that seemed to keep me separate no matter how hard I tried to fit in and be liked. Trying to be understood was nearly impossible.  It was like I had a really important secret that even I didn’t know. Everyday I searched to figure out what it was that seemed to prevent me from connecting to people like I did to animals, to plants, rocks, stuffed animals, the moon and the stars, colours, cameras, books, the number 3 to music most of all.

See, despite a frantic search for a reflection of myself in other people whether in person or on TV I never could seem to quite find it, nor did I go about it in very good ways at times. I was always looking for some sort of ‘sign’ that I was connected to someone else because I just don’t understand the supposed natural process of it. Sometimes I’d find what I thought were enough signs and I’d become out of control about it all, mostly in my head. I’d emotionally suffocate people once I grabbed a hold – all trying just so desperately to figure out where I fit but more so – WHY wasn’t I fitting in despite all my very young mind had come up with to try to make that happen.

The pressure I put on myself for being different — and then trying to crack the code of fitting in because when I acted as my true self it just wasn’t tolerated mostly — was staggering even at the age you see in the photo below.

A girl and her plastic dog. Grade Primary - 1974

A girl and her plastic dog.
Grade Primary – 1974

Sesame Street instantly became something I looked forward to seeing SO much. I could have watched it all day, along with a show that very few may have heard of outside of Canada called “Bixby and Me” (“Bixby Says… Reeeeeelaaaax.”)  I was actually introduced to Bixby at my one room Schoolhouse where I attended Grades P,1 and 2 and walked uphill – just one way – to get to school.  That’s my School picture above and when I was Reeeeeelaaaax‘ing with Bixby!

♪ It's Bixby and me, we live in a tree, and for miles around, there's so much to see. There's plenty to do, and people to meet, so come on along, with Bixby and me ♪

♪ It’s Bixby and me, we live in a tree,
and for miles around,
there’s so much to see.
There’s plenty to do,
and people to meet,
so come on along,
with Bixby and me ♪

Those 2 shows became what I relied on for the majority of my “scripts” (LINK to YouTube Video about Scripting ⇒ https://youtu.be/vtbbmeyh5rk ) from pre-school through to about grade 3 or 4 when those scripts didn’t work anymore with my peers. Even at 46 years old I love it when I find someone who I can communicate with using just lines from Sesame Street or other childhood favourites as the main language.

Until 2011 when the seizures started my life was a seemingly endless cycle of trying to find reflections of myself in others so I could figure out how and where I belonged. So I could maybe be like others and answer questions with ease and not the awkward way I did. So that when I was a kid I could figure all the weird ‘girl’ toys out (umm Barbie? Yeah, I don’t get that whole thing) and look happy doing it because that’s what I saw reflected back to me and it’s what was asked of me.

I was supposed to want to play with other kids and expected to know how. But I wanted the time alone in my room looking at my Kaleidoscope or my Viewmaster to be respected as important to me. My escapes from so many failed attempts at play and friendship because they truly made me feel happy and I didn’t have to struggle so hard.  I was fine with hanging out with my Grandmother, or my pet rabbit, or my abundant ‘favourite’ rock collection.

I also remember watching Romper Room in hopes of hearing my name!

Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play?

Romper, bomper, stomper boo.
Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.
Magic Mirror, tell me today,
have all my friends had fun at play?

                “I see Robert and Kathy and Mark and Emily and Pa….trick…”

                                               (maybe next time 🙄 )

Because despite wanting those times alone there were also times I wanted to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be understood. I knew I had so much to offer the world but I just couldn’t seem to break through. I notice to this day (literally) conversations end when I participate.

Shows like Sesame Street helped me to be able to exist around my peers enough to just get by. Just getting by never fills you up though, so you’re in a constant state of losing ground – well, sanity really.  I used my scripts from the show and the things I learned from the various skits as ways to communicate with others. But I rarely ever saw myself, even in a show as diverse as it was. It was teaching me ways to be around others but was it really teaching others how to be around and accommodating of me?

They’ve taken a giant step forward in this regard. In giving Autistic kids the opportunity to see a world accepting of our differences. To see that we can fit in on our own terms and not spend all of our processing abilities on working to blend in and hide the things we need to cope – like stimming to self regulate for example.

And they’ve done something which is what ultimately allowed me to feel good about talking about this on my website. They worked with ASAN for the past year on this project!

ASAN‘s Statement on Sesame Workshop’s “See Amazing” Initiative.
LINK ⇒ (http://autisticadvocacy.org/2015/10/asan-statement-on-sesame-workshops-see-amazing-initiative/)

ASAN was able to accomplish this with the tireless advocacy of so many actually Autistic and our allies who work with Boycott Autism Speaks. They pushed for Sesame Street to partner with more than just Autism Speaks, who as it goes is not a good organization at all.

I’m also including a link from ‘The E is for Erin’ that offers a very in-depth critical review. There are many very valid points.

LINK ⇒  http://eisforerin.com/2015/10/23/not-in-love-with-julia/

“Throughout all of their material, they use “person first language” or PFL (person with autism, so-and-so has autism) rather than “identity first language” or IFL (autistic person, so-and-so is autistic) despite the fact that most autistic people prefer IFL. With that, they didn’t even attempt balance. PFL happens to be a total deal breaker for me. I can’t imagine ever telling my kids that I have autism or you have autism, because in that language, it sounds like I have a disease or a disorder, which I do not. I am autistic, which is the way I am and the way I experience the world.”

I checked out the interactive book on their website called “We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3” and cried at finally seeing a reflection of me on Sesame Street. And because when you’re an Autistic female you’re just that much more invisible, having the character be a girl means so much.  As an added plus orange is my favourite colour, like, favouritefavouritefavourite and Julia’s hair is orange!

Julia and Elmo – image (c) Sesame Workshop/Marybeth Nelson

They even have a page dedicated to just Autism!

LINKhttp://autism.sesamestreet.org/

This wouldn’t have even been possible just 5 years ago. I’m excited by the progress in the places it’s happened and a bit more hopeful for the barriers we have yet to break down. I can’t imagine Sesame Street is any less impactful and influential to the young minds that watch these days. The effect of this is beneficial for everyone which is a giant step toward how it should be.

I think though, I’m most excited for #ActuallyAutistic parents of Autistic kids who grew up with Sesame Street. To watch as they see themselves reflected in a positive and accommodating way will I hope, offer some healing for how so many of us were continuously forced to hide who we really are.

I’m really hoping Sesame Street continues to grow this part of their programming. It’s a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. Julia needs to transition from being purely digital to a “real” life character in the show so that this becomes far more inclusive. There needs to be Autistic characters of different races.  Black girls especially have a real difficulty being diagnosed and having access to services. We need Autistic LGBTQ characters.  Autism is a commonality — but we are all very different. The public image remains that it is mainly a young white male issue, but that’s far from the overall picture.

I don’t have children, but I have a Great Nephew who is just a year old and it’s a good feeling to know that this far more inclusive Sesame Street is the one he’ll grow with.

Welcome Julia! Lucky for me I already know the way to Sesame Street 🙂

See you there!

I akke the effort for you

This entry is dedicated to Stella Young. Through her Tedx talk I found my way to writing this entry, which is something I’ve wanted to do but just couldn’t let go of that last bit of fear.  Thank you Stella. Rest Peacefully ♥

 ⊕⊗⊕

Why has “this” ↓ not been named yet?

You are losing an online argument and the person makes a spelling or grammar mistake. You grab at the chance to take a swipe at your opponents intellect by pointing the spelling mistake out and….

YOU MAKE AN ERROR AS WELL.

The percentage of this happening must be darn impressive!

I don’t play those games because I’d always lose and in observing these exchanges of communication I’ve become acutely aware of how mean people can be about spelling and grammar.

A few years ago I found a really great article that deals with literacy privilege.  Literacy privilege?  I know, right? That uncomfortable feeling though is what we need to push past to have a better understand of the life of others.  And when I did that I found all sorts of great information and learned more about accommodation and how to strike a balance between myself and others.

Here’s the link to that article.↓

⊕ Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar on the Internet

I woke up today and worried about the fact I hadn’t written anything here in a while. It’s a lot of work and I have been especially drained. Ever since the EEG at the end of March I have been having Simple Partial Seizures.  I didn’t understand what they were for a few weeks and then when I did I went to see my family Doctor and things went from there. I’ll write about that experience in a separate entry.  They are under control now though, I should mention. Just under 2 weeks seizure free but it was daily, so much better.

(edited to add: had more seizures after the publishing of this article. As of June 29th, 2015 I have just over 3 weeks in. Really hoping this is the start of another long run of seizure free living.)

I’ve really come to understand that I have no control over my creative muse. Today’s turnaround from “what could I wrote about” to here is quick even for me 😀

I did something today on facebook, spontaneously. (and not) Not because I’ve thought about doing this many times and spontaneously because, well, that one is self explanatory!

There are several comorbid (occurs together but can occur separately) conditions on the Autism Spectrum. Mine started to be picked up fairly early, considering where I live and the information available. Epilepsy developed later in life, though I am seeing where the signs and some symptoms have been there for years.  The 2 I am going to write about today are Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

The comorbid conditions to the Spectrum are really what cause most of it not all of the problems we have. This is where the struggle lies. This is why more and more “voices” of older Autistic adults like myself in the community are asking people to move past awareness and onto acceptance. Please!

So today I opened facebook and started typing about this issue and part way through I realised something. I wanted to finally show you a part of me that I go to great lengths to accommodate others for. I started to wonder, what if I allowed myself to be accommodated? What if I didn’t correct the visual effects of Dyslexia and Dyspraxia for others all the time? Would I still be understood? Made fun of? Will it lighten my load just enough to make my life just much easier? Only one way to find out.

Please know that I do not expect or am asking that my particular set of learning disabilities or issues be the only ones to be accommodated or the standard for anyone else. Some people cannot read words written without some attempt at correction or without punctuation because their brain doesn’t allow without tremendous effort, if at all. I’m no more deserving of accommodation than they are. I’ve just lived in such shame for so long about this and I don’t think I or others like me should any more.

Here’s we go…

Ive thought about doijg this fora vwert long time. Eahc time I do, or start I get too scared. Each tme I show who I rruly am it hurts me more than it jhelps me in teh outside world, so I keep it to myself.

(I’ve paused, this makes me fel such shame and I’;m tire dof feleinghame)

There are sevral co=morbif conditions on the Autism specturm and I have my share,. But teh 2 I’m hightling here are duyslexiua and dyspraxia.

Yes, this is ehat it looks like beofr eI make it so YOU can undrtsand me. Not only do I struggle throuhg this, I then have to corrct it all and hope i find most of it. This is what teh words that make you laught and cry look like before you read them.

Soetimes I dont; even know what I was trying to say.

Sme days tis is much worse and some days beter. This is a medium day.

On hard days I get angry and cry. I eranse it all and you never knwo wat I wanted to say. O hard sdya not only do i have toruble trpying, I have troreubel verbally communicating too.

Communicatiin is many, many things. It’s not just vernbal, or written and those who only acept those as lefitmate foems of summunication are harmign those of us who nees to communicate in other ways as well.

I works hours, sometimes days at the written thigns I share. You can;t see the effort I kae to reach YOU – so today U am givign you asmall poeek into my pecturm world.

Ironivally, those of us who have the most diffuculty with the norms of socirty works the hardest to accomidate those who don’t really needs it.

I want thyat to change.

If you think less of me after this, it’s a meansure of who youare as a persion, not me.

I’m mot correcvitn this – you figire it out – you expericne a small, small part of what it is like to be me.

 I akke the effort for you – can or will you make it for me?

(Facebook says yes! The amazing respone is why I decided to bring it outside of that platform to this one.  Thank you for your kindness!)

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