Everywhere I looked today I saw news sites and social media promoting the new “See Amazing” initiative by Sesame Street. Eventually I gave in and looked myself, and I have to say, they appear to have got everything right.
If you haven’t found the resource yet, you can access it here: “See the Amazing.”
What’s so special about this – how is it any different from all those other websites trying to get our clicks and shares and money? So much of that is answered in the simple phrase “Sesame Street.” I grew up with Sesame Street, my children grew up with it (and still watch it every day). It has huge popularity and appeal. So for something so wide-spread and so loved to create a free resource aimed at making our lives better, is something very special.
And I do mean “our lives” – they have made sure that their website also offers support, acceptance and understanding of everyone involved in the life of an autistic person, including siblings and parents.
So what is involved in this resource? You name it: information and advice on supporting our families; a child-aimed video encouraging us to see and enjoy “the amazing” in all of us; daily routine charts (tooth brushing, hand washing, trying new food); a storybook about a new autistic Sesame Street character called Julia, etc. All of which can be found through the link above (here, let me give it again anyway). The site works equally well on my iPad as it does on my desktop, so chances are whatever you’re looking at it on will cope well too. These resources could be used very well by parents and therapists, within preschools and primary schools, and with friends and family trying to understand and help those with autism.
The “See Amazing” initiative apparently took three years to complete, and included consultation with families, service and support providers, and people who have autism themselves. The tone and usefulness of the end product reflect this wide consultation. Despite expressing the challenges and hardships (such as high bullying rates) of those with autism, “See Amazing” also manages to convey the important upbeat message of appreciating and accepting others’ differences and seeing both the special talents and simple joys of autistic people. It fits within the wider narrative of, well, of seeing the amazing in all of us – their chosen title captures what they’re doing very well.
They’re encouraging others to share their own stories of seeing the amazing too, which is helping to build the profile and momentum of the movement.
Obviously, I think it’s all sorts of wonderful, but I have come across some (undeserved) negativity towards the project, which saddened me. I’m going to mention that negativity only briefly, because I do believe it is misguided and that most people will see where it has gone wrong without too lengthy an explanation.
I’ve seen the initiative attacked for using the terminology “with autism” instead of “autistic.” People making this attack need to understand that no matter what terminology Sesame Street chose, they were going to be under fire from different interest groups – try not to read so much into the terminology, and appreciate instead the clearly good intent and positive messages; surely that matters so much more.
I’ve also seen people attack Sesame Street for focusing so strongly on autism here instead of other disabilities, to which I reply do they even watch the show? I have seen a regular and established cartoon character in a wheelchair, I regularly see the inclusion of children in wheelchairs in their songs and segments, and I have seen Elmo segments include multiple children (and babies) with Down’s syndrome. I know Sesame Street has also included adults with other disabilities, such as deafness and included sign language accordingly. Diversity is not something Sesame Street has failed in.
Lastly, I have seen Sesame Street attacked for not expressing their resource from an autistic perspective, which is a bizarre attack because the entire resource is built around understanding and accepting the autistic experience and perspective. I think this is a knee-jerk reaction from people who have not adequately explored the resource and do not realize it was deliberately created with inclusion from autistic people including the self-advocate movement.
So really, what’s not to love? I think this is a beautiful, thoughtful, heart-warming and useful resource, that I sincerely hope (and believe) can make a positive difference for our kids. I hope Julia’s character gets expanded further into the everyday Sesame Street universe – her creation and this initiative is clearly not a simplistic or one-shot endeavor, so I suspect the resource may be expanded, particularly if we show them how much we appreciate it.
So please do check it out, please do share the love, and please do let me know what you think too.