I'll never forget the upheaval a while back when Sesame Street introduced Baby Bear, a character with a lisp. Parents were concerned that their kids would "learn" to lisp from Baby Bear. They were concerned that their children might find a lisp to be cool rather than unfortunate. Yeah, that would be awful.
As a person with a disability, I was, of course, thrilled with Sesame Street's move to be even more inclusive and to embrace all kinds of people. Granted, a mild lisp is a pretty minor thing when it comes to disabilities, but any step is a good one, in my opinion.
Now, they're taking it even further. As part of Sesame Street's newly announced "See Amazing in All Children" initiative, a new character named Julia has been introduced into the already quite diverse cast. Julia adds something extra valuable to the show because she has autism.
Even watching the early seasons of "Sesame Street" with my kids, I am blown away by how ahead of the times this show has always been, especially when it comes to inclusion and diversity. It's fascinating to watch a child see someone really different for the first time. They're curious, of course. They want to know why. They want to know how and when and where. It's wonderful to see a child reach out and try to learn about someone who seems different. But sometimes kids react in fear. I firmly believe that most, if not all, of this fear reaction is "caught" from parents and other adults who don't know how to act around persons with disabilities.
Adults do all kinds of things to breed fear of disabilities, and sadly, it's usually done with good intentions.
Maybe they hush their children's questions. Maybe they tell their kids not to stare. Adults do all kinds of things to breed fear of disabilities, and sadly, it's usually done with good intentions. By shushing a child's curiosity, you're not teaching them to respect us. You're teaching them that we are fragile and not to be approached. You're teaching them that disabilities are only to be talked about behind closed doors, in hushed tones. You are turning a person into a taboo.
And that's what's so awesome about programs like "Sesame Street." On that show, they aren't afraid to talk about the things that make us different. They show us what inclusion really looks like—learning about others. And how beautiful that this training takes place in a show geared toward minds at such an impressionable age!
So strike up a conversation about the weather with someone who seems strange to you. When your child has questions, take their hand and lead them to converse with someone new. And by all means, use their screen time wisely and get them plugged into programs that help make the world a better place.