Advocates for people with autism are marking Autism Awareness Month in many ways throughout the month of April.
Buildings and landmarks around the world were illuminated in blue light April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day, recognized by the United Nations since 2007. The Light It Up Blue campaign is sponsored by the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks. The White House, Rockefeller Center, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Empire State Building were all bathed in blue light to raise consciousness of autism spectrum disorder, which affects one in 68 children.
The PBS children’s program Sesame Street added a new character in April: a Muppet named Julia, who has autism. The show’s online Digital Storybook series has featured Julia since 2015, but she is now making her television debut. Sesame Street producers met with groups that serve people with autism to learn which issues would be best to focus on. In the first episode featuring the red-haired Julia, she is hesitant to shake Big Bird’s hand. Big Bird is afraid Julia does not like him, but Elmo explains that Julia “does things a little differently” because she has autism. The episode also portrays Julia’s excitability during a game and her sensitivity to loud noises. Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer behind Julia, has a son with autism. She said that she hopes children who watch the show will learn that kids with autism play differently, “and that that’s okay.”
Advocates said that increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism and their families is essential, but raising awareness is only the first step. Although great advances have been made in research and interventions, children and adults with autism need meaningful assistance, and the programs that help them need strong funding support.