The resources are designed to help families adapt and create routines, build flexibility, and cope with the challenges of living in the time of COVID-19.
This year has been extremely hard on most of us. It presented us with a plethora of setbacks, heartbreaks, and challenges all while dangling the dangers of the novel Coronavirus over our heads. Families with children — especially children who have sensory issues, like some of those who have autism — have found this new way of life particularly challenging, since getting youngsters to understand the importance of wearing masks and social distancing can prove to be a daunting task. Sesame Street is now hoping to alleviate some of these burdens for parents with the launch of brand new videos and resources featuring Julia, a 4-year-old Sesame Street Muppet with autism.
These new resources — available for free in English and Spanish on SesameStreet.org/autism — aim to help autistic children and their families cope with some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a press release, "they are designed to help families adapt and create routines, build flexibility, and cope with the challenges of living in the time of COVID-19, like having to wear masks and learning to understand physical distancing." One of these videos shows young Julia on a video call with her dad, visibly excited about going to the park.
Wearing masks, video chats & adjusting to frequent changes in routines can be challenging for children with autism. Today, we are excited to launch new resources to help autistic children & their families cope during these challenging times. #SeeAmazing https://t.co/DnLHzQbfjx— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) September 21, 2020
However, when Julia's dad reminds her to wear a mask before stepping outside, her face falls as masks bother her ears and tickle her nose. Empathetic to his daughter's concerns, Julia's dad explains to her that like most things in life, wearing a mask gets easier with practice. He then proposes that they and Julia's stuffed bunny Fluffster, practice wearing masks while he counts down from five. By the end of the video, he manages to convince his daughter that wearing a mask isn't all that bad.
"We know that children with autism and their families are experiencing unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that schedules, routines, and guidelines can change with little warning," Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Street’s Senior Vice President of US Social Impact, said in a statement. "The new resources are designed to help families manage unexpected circumstances, familiarize children with important new behaviors like wearing masks, and incorporate practical strategies into their day-to-day lives—all with a little help from Julia."
Other resources featured in the latest release include new virtual playdate videos with Julia (including one with Elmo where the two learn how to adapt an activity they usually do in person), "an animation featuring Julia and her family out at the park for the first time in a long time," "a digital storybook teaching children that even when the world around us looks and feels different, some things stay the same no matter what—like the love within a family," and "new articles and routine stories, including strategies for parents and caregivers to help children cope with—and even embrace—changes in routines."
In March, soon after the pandemic hit the United States, Sesame Street's nonprofit educational organization, Sesame Workshop, launched the Caring for Each Other initiative "to meet the needs of families as the situation evolves, with free resources designed to help parents provide comfort and manage anxiety, as well as help with creating routines and fostering playful learning at home." The new releases are part of Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children initiative, which was developed in consultation with over 250 organizations and experts within the autism community and aims to increase public awareness and acceptance of autism, foster greater empathy and understanding, and support families with free, bilingual resources.