Monday, October 26, 2015

Autism finds a friend on Sesame Street

I am so glad that they did this!

A series of new videos from Sesame Street star a Muppet with a magic wand, pink wings and friends
with autism.

The videos are part of a new effort aimed at "normalizing" autism, making families with the condition feel included and reducing the bullying that is five times more often aimed at autistic children than neurotypical ones.

Although one in 68 American children have autism, the public still doesn’t understand much about the condition, says Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of social impact for the Sesame Workshop. Autism is defined by limits in communication and social interactions, as well as repetitive behaviors like rocking or hand flapping.

The videos, available online at, show the home life of parents and siblings of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, emphasizing what makes them "amazing" and what they have in common with the general population. The Sesame Workshop autism project, launched last week, also includes an online storybook, curriculum material, an app and customizable cards to help autistic families map out routines to get through the day.

Ari Ne’eman, president and co-founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, a group run by and for autistic adults, says he’s thrilled by the effort.

“This is about sending a message that autism is normal and it’s not to be afraid of,” says Ne’eman, adding that many people on the spectrum — like everyone else — grew up watching the TV program.

“It’s very powerful to know that autistic children are as welcome on Sesame Street as every other kind of America’s children.”

At Sesame Workshop, the group felt strongly that the videos should not just be about people with autism but made with them, Betancourt says.

So the project also includes an animated video produced by students at Exceptional Minds, a California training program that teaches digital production skills to young adults on the spectrum.
When asked to brainstorm ideas for a video about what it’s like to be autistic, Shane McKaskle, a recent graduate, invented Benny, a little boy with a red rectangular body and just a few spikes of black hair. McKaskle’s fellow students based Benny’s finger-puppet-like friends on different, simple geometric shapes.

In the final animation, Benny talks about how his autism means he doesn’t like the loud music or the games some of his peers play, and he shares that sometimes he’d rather be alone.
But like all kids, Benny wants to have fun.

McKaskle, now a professional designer, is thrilled to have played a role in the animation and to have collaborated with Sesame Street. “I couldn’t be happier,” he says.

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