Image: Marybeth Nelson | Sesame Workshops
If you’ve been anywhere on social media during the last couple of weeks, chances are you’ve seen the news that both Sesame Street and Power Rangers are debuting characters on the autism spectrum.
Friends, this is huge.
Not only are these significantly popular and far-reaching examples of children’s media, they’re deeply rooted in the pop culture of today’s young children and their parents. Children’s entertainment has the power to invite an impressionable audience into social stories, current events paired with social commentary, philosophical musings, and life lessons. Pretty much anything can be reworked and communicated through fictional stories so that kids might develop deeper empathy for others or absorb new information.
The writers and producers for Sesame Street and Power Rangers are not blind to this. They’ve jumped headfirst into the task of teaching inclusion, understanding and compassion to our children, but just as significant is the fact that their autistic characters are not stereotypical or overly dramatized. Julia, Sesame Street‘s first Muppet on the autism spectrum, is welcomed by the other Muppet cast members as a friend with a unique way of connecting to her neighbors rather than a handicapped victim. Power Rangers‘ blue ranger is depicted as a teen on the spectrum who struggles to balance his newfound galaxy-protecting responsibilities with his attempts to fit in socially and live an anxiety-free life.
These characters illuminate the broadness of the autism spectrum. Individuals on the spectrum can be easily misunderstood or inappropriately treated due to rampant stereotypes, but that stops when actual people are represented as kids and individuals simply experiencing the world, differences and perceived idiosyncrasies aside. Check out these new characters in Sesame Street and Power Rangers, if only to celebrate the fact that children’s entertainment is stepping up its game in showing kids what it means to truly understand and befriend one another.