Content/trigger warning: discussion of virulent ableism including filicide, Autism $peaks, cursing
Why am I even doing this? Sara Luterman already wrote an article for Slate about this. I haven’t read it because I’m afraid I would just copy what she said for this blog entry…but if I did that, it’d probably be better than whatever I’m about to spit out.
ANYWAY. Some background.
Sesame Street has just partnered with the organization Autism Speaks, so I’ll give a little background on Sesame Street’s Autistic character, Julia, as well as some background on Autism Speaks. Julia was introduced to Sesame Street in 2015 as part of an initiative called “See Amazing in All Children”. One of the aims of Julia’s character was to introduce young allistic children to the idea of accepting Autistic people for who we are, even if we seem strange and unusual at first. (I would hope that the aim was also to allow Autistic children to see themselves represented, but I’m not that optimistic.) For example, “The Amazing Song” was used to demonstrate that Autistic people can feel, and Julia wore ear defenders when she was featured in the Macy’s Day Parade, normalizing Autistic people needing sensory protection. Julia even stims; her puppet has a special pair of arms that allow her to flap her hands.
Now for some background on Autism $peaks. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that Autism $peaks is a pseudoscience- and fearmongering-peddling hate group that would love to see Autistic people eugenically eliminated. If you haven’t been reading my blog, now you know that. For more information on why A$ is a hate group, I wrote a blog entry about it: https://thisisforyoucarrie.blog/2018/04/03/autism-speaks-is-a-hate-group/
I believe that Autism $peaks, much to the chagrin of Autistic people, was involved from the get-go. To be frank, I’m not positive about that, and I don’t know exactly what hand A$ had in Julia’s creation or if they influenced Julia’s portrayal before now. I had trouble researching this because, like many Autistic people, I find reading about A$ triggering. (Also, Googling “Sesame Street Autism Speaks” seems to only bring up recent entries.) I do know that ASAN, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an Autistic-run org, was also involved in Julia’s creation. This was crucial because we hardly ever get to be the arbiters of our own representation. So what has changed? Well, Sesame Street is partnering with A$ to—I swear to fuck I’m not making this up—push a “kit” that is supposed to help parents of a newly diagnosed Autistic kid to process the diagnosis as if their child were dead.
Again, I’m not bullshitting. I wish I were.
The 100-Day Kit, as it’s called, has a section outlining the five stages of grief. This is unbelievably harmful because it buys into the narrative that when a child is diagnosed as Autistic, any child that the parent/s could have wanted is dead and a new incomprehensible monster has taken their place. It paints Autisticness as a tragedy. Fucking excuse me but my brain is not a tragedy, thanks very much.
There are other problems with the 100 Day Kit, such as A$’s usual pseudoscience-pushing with a “cure” diet backed by precisely zero reproducible scientific research, but I don’t think I have to belabor the point. The 100-Day Kit promotes the idea that Autisticness is a tragedy and that parents should mourn for the precious allistic child they didn’t get when their child is diagnosed as Autistic. I mean, how the fuck do you think an Autistic child is going to feel when they see this shit? They’ll think their parents wish they were an entirely different person, or that their parents don’t love them. How is that seeing the amazing in every child, Sesame Street!? Not to mention the autism-as-tragedy narrative contributes to filicide, as I mentioned in the previously linked blog entry.
This decision is incontrovertibly harmful to children who see themselves in Julia, Sesame Street. This is why ASAN severed ties with you. This is why the Autistic community is begging you to reconsider your partnership with a hate group that would rather people like Julia—like me—not exist.
I have to stop now. This is too fucking upsetting. I’ll conclude with a quote from Jim Sinclair about why messages like A$’ are so harmful: “This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.”