This article was contributed by Amy Perry, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist and mom to a daughter with autism.
I’m going to get personal. When I heard Sesame Street was launching an autism initiative, I was very happy, and in some ways, I felt it was long overdue. I grew up watching Sesame Street and enjoyed sharing it with my own children. In many ways, the characters, videos, and catchy songs were some of my first teachers. They gave me a glimpse of the world, other societies, and cultures when I was still too young to venture outside my own. Sesame Street taught me about the people in my neighborhood and showed me how to be part of a diverse community, even if I was only watching it for the puppets.
Most of the time, I feel like I live, eat, and breathe autism. Because of my job, it’s what people want to talk to me about, and because it’s also my child, I have to talk about it a good deal as well. You could say I am saturated with autism, and because of this, something really has to be extraordinary to get my attention, much less move me emotionally. I sat down to look at the videos that Sesame Street released on its website with the idea that I could find some materials to integrate into future workshops or to share with parents of young children. Thirty minutes later, I was soaked in a waterfall of tears – the good kind that heal wounds in your soul. I never expected to be touched so deeply by Sesame Street.
First, if you don’t have a child with autism and you are kind enough to be interested and watch some of these videos, they are NOT going to make you cry. Nothing is sad. These are beautiful stories of mothers, fathers, spouses, friends, and siblings who live with autism and they give you a tangible, honest glimpse of life inside autism. It is likely that you will leave with fresh understanding and insight, and hopefully a desire to share with others. If you do have a child with autism, you might cry because you will see that other people understand and live your life, and they are teaching others what it is to live in a family with autism. You are NOT alone.
These videos are real. In the magic that is Sesame Street, they have captured the lives and feelings and experiences of children, parents, spouses, and friends of autism in the most beautiful and Sesame way I have ever seen. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the characters on Sesame Street, but there was something about seeing autistic kids playing with my loveable furry blue pal, Grover. Seeing Grover love and understand these children who are so much like mine and tell everyone how great they are stirred something in me. It made the past 18 years with my daughter feel real and valid and accepted in a way that nothing else in the media ever has. I thought of all the times kids at the park would say, “What’s wrong with her? Why can’t she talk?” I watched Elmo and friends dance and sing “The Amazing Song,” celebrating kids with autism for their uniqueness and individuality, the way they should be. I dream of a world where kids can say “She has autism? That’s amazing! What does she like to do?”
I cried through A Sibling Story that features three sisters, just like my family. The sisters talked about how the family works together to support their sister with autism and the special kinds of help they give their parents, such as entertaining their sister while she gets her hair done. The girls talked about how it was hard sometimes, but that was all the more reason to help each other as a family. I wish my other daughters had been able to grow up seeing things like this on Sesame Street, to see other kids also challenged by the unusual requirements of life with autism. I thought of the moms and dads in my ASNC support groups when I watched Being a Supportive Parent and A Parent’s Role, because these videos say what I tell parents every day: You have to take care of yourself, we have to take care of each other, and you have to have support. It’s the only good way through this; connecting to others is how we weave our silver linings.
Sesame Street has created the most beautiful platform to teach autism awareness to children and families. I am stunned, I am humbled, I am grateful, and I encourage you, if you want a better understanding of autism, if you want to know what it’s like for the families whose 1 in 68 children have autism, if you want your children to know, if you want to learn things that help, I’ll see you on Sesame Street.
Amy Perry can be reached at 910-864-2769, ext. 1206, or firstname.lastname@example.org.