“An autistic ‘Sesame Street’ muppet is caught in a conflict between the most prominent autism organization in the United States advocating for early intervention, and autistic adults who see the condition as a difference, not a disease needing to be cured.” L. Bever, The Washington Post
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“Since 2017, a Muppet named Julia has given children on the spectrum a role model and helped parents and peers understand the condition. The red-haired, green-eyed 4-year-old flaps her hands when she gets excited, cries when loud noises overwhelm her and communicates in her own way and her own time, sometimes using a communication device. Autistic self-advocates, who were consulted in her creation, have applauded how she is not only depicted but also accepted by other human and Muppet characters on the show.
Over the summer, Julia became embroiled in a controversy over a partnership with Autism Speaks, an influential and well-funded organization that some autistic adults say has promoted ideas and interventions that have traumatized many people in their community.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), an organization run by and for autistic people, announced it had cut ties with ‘Sesame Street’ after the children’s program partnered with Autism Speaks to make the Muppet the face of a public service campaign encouraging early screening and diagnosis of autism.
ASAN has accused Autism Speaks of using ‘language of acceptance and understanding to push resources that further stigma and treat autistic people as burdens on our families.’
It contends that resource materials from Autism Speaks encourage parents ‘to view autism as a terrible disease from which their child can ‘get better.’
‘I think part of why people feel so let down right now is that Sesame Street, as a show, is very, very personal to a lot of our members and a lot of people in the autistic community,’ said Julia Bascom, an autistic self-advocate and executive director of ASAN, explaining that many autistic people have relied on the show as a learning tool…Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, said Sesame is ‘saddened’ ASAN has ended its relationship with the children’s program as it has been ‘incredibly supportive of our efforts along the way and of contributing to Julia.’
The controversy touched a nerve for many autistic adults who say they grew up being taught to conform to the world, rather than being encouraged to find their place in it… Some children with autism were trained to behave more like other children — told to make eye contact, mimic common facial expressions and suppress repetitive behaviors called stimming, such as hand-flapping, bouncing and toe-tapping. They say it induced anxiety and made them [autistic children] believe there was something wrong with them…Now, this rising generation of autistic adults is joining others in the movement to change autism discussions that, they say, have historically been ‘about us, without us.’
More and more, they are influencing policies, leading protests against misleading anti-vaccine messages and the marketing of quack treatments, pushing for fair representation in media coverage, movies and TV shows, such as ‘Sesame Street,’ and helping to reshape language and outdated opinions about what autism really means.
(For example, many self-advocates ask to be called ‘autistic people‘ rather than ‘people with autism’ because the latter implies a disability.) More and more autistic people, such as 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg, are taking pride in their identities. This month, she called autism her ‘superpower.’
‘There are a lot more us who are openly autistic and open about our opinions about the direction of autism research and services,’ said Ari Ne’eman, an autistic adult who co-founded ASAN.
One leader in the movement, Lydia X.Z. Brown, an autistic attorney based in the Washington area and founder of the Autistic People of Color Fund, grew up at the height of the autism panic…’One of the first things I remember being told was that it would be a bad idea to tell other kids at school because then they just might bully me more,’ Brown said…Self-advocates in this rising generation say that they have found their community online — many using the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic to share such experiences, insights and frustrations, to make friends and to fight for change.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about Autism. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Some encourage early screening and diagnosis of autism.
- The muppet became embroiled in a controversy over autism issues.
- Loud noises overwhelm her.
- Autistic self-advocates were consulted in her creation.
- Some push resources that further stigma of autistic people.
- Many people feel so let down right now because Sesame Street is personal to a lot of members.
- Autistic people have relied on the show as a learning tool.
- Some children with autism were trained to mimic common facial expressions.
- They were also trained to suppress repetitive behaviors.
- Autistic people are pushing for fair representation in media coverage.
Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
John Elder Robison, an/a autistic people/person and neurodiversity scholar/school at the College of William & Mary, say/said it is important for/about autistic people to spoke/speak for the community, including those with/on intense support needs, to/too show the world this/that we have voices.
Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
Many self-advocates ___autism-rights ___Jim Sinclair for ___the movement, with a pointed open to___in 1993 that___the ___surrounding___and the emphasis on a “cure.”
WORD LIST: culture, criticized, parents, letter, credit, autism activist, starting,
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups Have each group list 3 questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.