Sesame Street’s Ongoing Mission to Raise Social Awareness

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Sesame Street’s new character with autism, Julia, is a part of a long line of Sesame Street characters who help raise social awareness amongst children

by Dr. Patricia Wright

I am definitely a member of the Sesame Street generation. Sharing that I was 2 years old when Sesame Street first launched in 1969 definitely discloses my age but also implies that I’ve been with them since the beginning. I was a toddler, the perfect demographic for Sesame Street, when it started. I learned the alphabet, numbers and social skills with a little help from Big Bird and the snuffleupagus.

Fast forward to 2006 when I first viewed the documentary, The World According to Sesame Street. The film provided viewers with an understanding of the complexities of adapting Sesame Street for places like South Africa, Bangladesh and Serbia.

Why should a television program focused on preschool learning be so difficult to culturally adapt?

Sesame Street isn’t just about learning letters and numbers – it is really focused on helping children learn social and emotional skills for success in life. And the social and emotional repertoires in countries that have experienced issues such as apartheid and genocide are rife with adaptation challenges. I was reminded again of the incredible mission of Sesame Street, helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

From the beginning Sesame Street in North America addressed the tough issues of our culture. Helping young children understand divorce, racism, death and dying socio-economic disparity – tough issues, important issues. Sesame Street has also addressed disability over the years. With Linda who was deaf, Tarah who used a wheelchair and others.

Recently Julia arrived on the Street to help children increase their understanding of autism. I’m pleased that Sesame Street has chosen to include autism in its array of character features. Sesame Street knows kids, knows how to help kids and knows how to support kids to learn about important issues.

Julia is going to educate a generation of kids to learn that autism is part of the human condition and that kids with autism are part of their community, will attend their schools, and who may communicate and socialize a bit differently, but they may also become their friends

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