Sesame Street: please reconsider your Autism Speaks partnership

I am absolutely devastated at the decision by Sesame Street to partner with anti-neurodiversity hate ‘charity’ Autism Speaks in delivering hugely harmful messages to parents of autistic children. After having done fantastic work with their autistic character Julia in showing that autistic people are different, not defective, Sesame Street are going to walk back this progress.

I wrote a post on Autism in TV at the beginning of 2018, where I praised Sesame Street’s 10-minute “Meet Julia” clip, in which they introduced autistic character Julia. I maintain that the clip was excellent, showing that stimming is healthy and makes autistic people happy among other things. It is a clip which could alter the attitudes of neurotypical children towards their autistic peers in a really positive way.

However, all that work and progress towards a society accepting of neurodivergence could now be undone. Yesterday, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), an autistic-led charity in the United States announced they were ending their partnership with Sesame Street, after Sesame Street has produced ads featuring Julia which promote Autism Speaks’ “Screen for Autism” initiative.

Autism Speaks is a highly controversial charity in the US which many autistic people consider to be a hate group. I would agree with that assessment. The ‘charity’ has for a long time promoted dangerous and harmful pseudoscientific diets, advocated for finding a cure, and encourages parents to subject their children to Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), an abusive autism therapy which shares its roots with gay conversion therapy.

Parents watching this clip who follow the web address given in the ad will be redirected to this page on the Autism Speaks website from which they can access a number of resources, which will encourage parents to ‘grieve’ their child’s autism diagnosis, and to seek ‘early intervention’ – which more often than not means ABA. The grieving aspect is particularly offensive: autistic people are not dead, and for our own parents to treat us as such is horrible.

Sesame Street had an opportunity to do great things with Julia, and to do great things for the autistic community. They could have promoted acceptance of neurodivergence, and could have shown the world that autism acceptance is the way forward. For a long time, it seemed like they would. Which is why it is so devastating to see that it will not be the case. I urge Sesame Street to reconsider.

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