• Facts and Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 54 children in the U.S., and yet is still largely misunderstood. A developmental disability, ASD affects how people with the disorder communicate, interact with others, behave, and learn. The symptoms range from mild to more severe, and ASD affects different people differently. Let’s look at some common myths, and clarify some facts about autism spectrum disorder.

  • Myth: People with ASD don’t feel, express, or understand emotions.
    • Fact: People with ASD have feelings like everyone else, but they may communicate them differently. When other people communicate their emotions directly, people with ASD usually feel empathy and compassion. Sometimes they may have trouble understanding unspoken interpersonal communication, though, so things like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions may not be as easy for them to read.
  • Myth: A person with ASD doesn’t need friends.
    • Fact: People with ASD may seem like they want to be left alone, or have trouble interacting with peers. This is just because they sometimes struggle with social skills, and not because they are unfriendly.
  • Myth: Boys and girls are affected equally by autism spectrum disorder.
    • Fact: According to data collected in 2016, while 1 in 34 boys was identified with ASD, only 1 in 144 girls received the same diagnosis.
  • Myth: People with ASD are intellectually disabled.
    • Fact: While about 31 percent of people with ASD have an intellectual disability, and 25 percent are in the borderline range, 44 percent have an IQ over 85. Many people with ASD have exceptional abilities. They can have high IQs and excel in different areas, like math or music.
  • Myth: ASD only affects children, and while children with ASD may exhibit odd behaviors, they’ll eventually grow out of it.
    • Fact: Autism spectrum disorder is the result of biological conditions that affect brain development, and children with ASD will still have ASD when they are adults.
  • Myth: Autism spectrum disorder is caused by poor parenting, emotional neglect, or vaccines.
    • Fact: There used to be a theory that mothers who weren’t emotionally warm caused autism spectrum disorder, but that’s long been proven inaccurate. And while the assertion that vaccines cause ASD has made the news, research does not support this theory.
  • Myth: There is no effective treatment for ASD.
    • Fact: While there’s no cure for this lifelong disorder, there are many therapies and treatments that can help children with ASD. Early intervention is important, which is crucial for parents to be alert to signs of ASD.

If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • How Games can Help Children with Autism

    For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), communication and social interaction can be challenging. It can be difficult to make friends because kids with ASD often find it hard to read social cues. Now, therapists are beginning to use fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) to help these young people engage with others, building social skills, confidence, and other skills. Dungeons and Dragons is one example of a game being successfully used for this purpose, but there are other RPGs out there that provide similar benefits. Why are these games so helpful?

    • They’re collaborative. To effectively work with party members, players collaborate and create strategies. This helps develop communication skills, and triumphing together as a party strengthens bonds, increasing trust between players. It’s easy to see how the skills developed in these collaborations can be useful in real life.
    • They provide the opportunity to develop decision-making skills. People with ASD often struggle with making decisions, but an RPG provides structure to help them learn to do this. There are character traits and backstories to choose, and players must make choices about their actions. Because this is an environment with no consequences in the real world, it takes the pressure off achieving a successful outcome. Players learn that decisions don’t necessarily have a set outcome but can result in a variety of conclusions.
    • They’re transformative, allowing players to “become” someone else. These games are escapist, and players can base their character or their character’s ideals on themselves or make them the exact opposite. It’s a safe space to try on new identities and observe what happens.
    • The games involve rules and consequences. These games have rules and structure built in, and the actions and decisions players make can result in different consequences.
    • They’re interactive, giving kids opportunities to make friends and build social skills. These aren’t games that you can easily play on your own. Getting into character and interacting with other players can build confidence, increase social skills, and help start conversations. Along the way, friendships form as players connect with like-minded people.
    • They require imagination, creativity, and flexibility. RPGs involve fantasy, and because they’re not video games, they require visualization. Players get to imagine whole worlds and civilizations, including fight scenes, cities, monsters, and fantastic creatures. They also have to be flexible, because the games require improvisation when a decision doesn’t have the intended result.
    • There’s no right or wrong way to play. People with ASD often fear failure, so the highly personalized gameplay in an RPG

    If your child has been diagnosed with ASD, STAR of CA is here to offer support, not just by keeping you informed of opportunities for fun with your kids, but also with important support services. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

    What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It’s confusing, in part because it’s actually not a single disorder, but rather a group of closely related disorders. While the symptoms and severity of autism varies across individuals on the spectrum, people with ASD generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, empathy, and flexible behavior. It’s important to remember, though, especially if you have a child who has been diagnosed with ASD, that people with ASD are unique individuals. What’s important is not the terminology, but the particular needs of the person with ASD.

    The confusion surrounding ASD has a lot to do with the name. Until 2013, there were five different categories of autism spectrum disorders, and because many people were diagnosed with or educated about ASD before 2013, these old names persist. For the sake of clarity, though, these disorders are now included in the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or ASD. Before 2013, the three most common forms of autism spectrum disorders were Autistic Disorder or autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Autistic disorder was the most severe of the three, Asperger’s Syndrome was sometimes called “high-functioning autism,” and PDD-NOS was called atypical autism.

    To be more concise, ASD is a complex, lifelong developmental disorder that occurs in one out of every 54 people. It appears in childhood, and children with ASD have brains that develop differently than neurotypical children. Because of this they often have difficulty understanding and interacting with the world around them. There’s no known cause for ASD and there is no cure, but with early diagnosis, a person can receive the right support and treatment services to allow for a high-quality life, full of opportunity. Once diagnosed, a child can receive treatment and therapy that will help with speech, social interaction, and learning.

    Behaviors typically exhibited by children with ASD include:

    • Body language, gestures, and facial expressions that are unusual or inappropriate
    • A lack of interest in others, or in sharing interests or achievements
    • Disinterest in pursuing social interaction, difficulty making friends
    • Difficulty understanding the feelings, reactions, and nonverbal cues of others.
    • Resistance to being touched
    • Difficulty with speech and understanding words
    • Inability to pick up on humor, taking things too literally
    • Speech delay, atypical tone of voice, repetition
    • Inflexibility and resistance to change
    • Repetitive body movements, continuous movement
    • Irrational attachment to unusual objects like light switches or rubber bands
    • Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest
    • Clumsiness or odd ways of moving
    • Sensory issues that involve being oversensitive or under-sensitive to input

    Children with a few symptoms of ASD don’t necessarily have ASD, but if your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Helping your Child with ASD Adapt to New Places

    As a parent, you’re probably excited about exposing your child to new experiences and new places. If you’re parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however, it can be tricky. Children with ASD tend to be resistant to change because it makes them feel anxious. The world can seem unpredictable, but when things stay the same, it can make them feel like they have a little bit more control. It’s understandable, then, that new places can be overwhelming. How can you help your child with ASD adapt?  

    • Maintain as much consistency as possible. Having your child’s favorite toys on hand and keeping daily routines the same can make it easier for your child to adjust to a new place. Children with ASD find “sameness” comforting, so making things seem familiar can keep the new place from feeling frightening or confusing. 
    • Prepare your child in advance. Talk about the upcoming change, using visual aids and stories to help him or her understand what to expect. Preview what’s coming by telling a story about what your child might expect, show pictures of the new place, or visit in advance, if possible. Knowing what to expect will help your child deal with the unfamiliar more effectively.   
    • Countdown, to help ease into it. Whether you’re visiting a new place on vacation, moving into a new home, or enrolling your child in a new school, you can make the transition easier by creating a visual countdown that helps your child prepare.  
    • Offer choices and reward flexibility. Whenever there’s a chance to present a choice, do it. This will help involve your child in what you’re doing and give the child a sense of control. On a regular basis, reward flexible behaviors, even if they’re small. Praise your child and give additional positive reinforcement, drawing attention to the desired behavior and congratulating the child on being able to “go with the flow.” Doing this even for small things will make the transition easier when the change is a big one.  
    • Be patientRecognize that there may be a meltdown from time to time, and decide in advance how you’ll deescalate it. Prepare a calm down routine ahead of time, so that your child will know how to self-soothe. Children with ASD can benefit from a sequence that includes things like taking a certain number of deep breaths with their eyes closed, rubbing their hands together, and hugging their bodies. Having this predictable sequence ready will be calming during an unfamiliar experience.  

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896. 

  • Benefits of Applied Behavioral Therapy

    If you’re the parent of a child who has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you’re probably looking for anything that will help your child. You may feel overwhelmed by the diagnosis, and that’s ok. In fact, there are many different therapies that may help your child, and one of the most beneficial is Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA).

    What is ABA? Used since the 1960s in treating young children with ASD and related disorders, this evidence-based best practice treatment has evolved over the years. ABA uses customized Behavior Intervention Plans to make gradual, systematic changes in the consequences of behaviors. In this way, socially positive behaviors are encouraged, while socially detrimental behaviors are discouraged. Using ABA, therapists are able to help children develop not only basic skills like looking, listening, and imitating but also more complex skills like reading and carrying on a conversation.

    ABA looks at how behavior works, and applies that understanding to real-world situations. Treatment plans are developed based on individual needs, and for children with ASD, this can help them reach goals in communication and language, social skills, self-care, play, motor skills, and learning and academics. Using ABA for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is beneficial for many reasons.

    • It works. While many other therapies are available to children with ASD, there’s more scientific evidence supporting the use of ABA than any other treatment.
    • It gives children with ASD the opportunity to make friends. The social skills that many children with ASD are lacking can be taught using ABA, allowing children to interact with others successfully and make friends.
    • It provides children with the skills they need to live real-world lives. Something as simple as toileting skills is crucial for daily function in society. ABA can help children with ASD learn basic skills and much more.
    • It helps parents to parent more effectively. ABA can teach parents how to interact with their children, while also teaching the children how to interact with others. Parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is not easy, but ABA can help you be a better parent.
    • It sets the bar higher for children with ASD. Some children lose their ASD diagnosis after ABA therapy. Applied Behavioral Analysis is beneficial because it shows parents and children what those children are capable of accomplishing. When expectations are raised, children achieve more. Behaviors that were thought impossible before the start of therapy may suddenly be within the child’s grasp, leading to the confidence that makes even higher goals possible.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • What Is Autism?

    If your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you may be feeling a mixture of emotions. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel panic, fear, distress, or confusion, or a combination of more than one of these emotions. The important thing for you to do now is to educate yourself. Knowing the facts about autism will help you understand your child’s condition so that you can find the resources you need to help your child thrive.

    What is autism? It’s a broad range of conditions, which in 2013 were grouped together under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD experience challenges with social skills, repetitive or stereotypical behavior, speech, and nonverbal communication. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that autism affects about one in fifty-nine children in the United States. Indicators of autism are typically evident by age two or three. In some cases, associated developmental delays can appear even earlier, and it can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months. Research indicates that early intervention is a key factor in positive outcomes later in life for individuals with ASD.

    There are many subtypes to ASD, and most are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Each person with ASD is unique and has a different set of strengths and challenges, and people with ASD can range in functioning in terms of how they learn, think, and solve problems. Some people with ASD need significant support in their daily lives. Other people, on the other hand, need less support and may even be able to live entirely independently.

    There are many factors that can influence the development of autistic spectrum disorder. The condition is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and may include comorbid medical issues that include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, or sleep disorders. People with ASD also have a higher likelihood of encountering mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and attention issues.

    A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can be unnerving, but you are not alone. As you learn more about the condition, you’ll be able to better understand your child and you’ll find support and resources to help your child thrive. Like everyone else, each child with ASD has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and as you learn more you’ll be able to build on your child’s strengths and find targeted interventions to address his or her weaknesses.

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.644.7827.

  • Do Sensory Processing Issues Get Better Over Time?

    For children with an autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing issues can be problematic. Overwhelmed by loud, chaotic environments, children with ASD may become overstimulated and act out in ways that are unsafe or inappropriate. Sometimes, parents make the decision to stop taking children into crowded places, to avoid meltdowns. But do these problems resolve themselves as the child grows to maturity?  

    In short, yes. For most people with ASD, sensory issues become much milder as the child grows. Sometimes they resolve on their own, but even when they’re severe and continue for many years, sensory processing issues do improve. Often, this improvement can be enhanced by skills learned in occupational therapy or by providing the child with environmental accommodations.  

    • Understanding sensory processing issues. Often, children with ASD have trouble processing sensory information they take in through not only their five senses- taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell- but also through two lesserknown internal senses. These internal senses are proprioception, which has to do with body awareness and movement, and vestibular sense, which involves balance and coordination. When a child is overly sensitive to sensory input, it can become overwhelming, which leads to avoidance. On the other hand, some children are undersensitive, which can cause them to bump into things and people intentionally, and seek out additional sensory stimulation. Some children face both issues, depending on the type of stimulation.  
    • Occupational therapy may help. Occupational therapists use different strategies, like swinging, spinning, and deep pressure, to help kids calm down, and they work with children on gross and fine motor skills. Some OTs work in schools, consulting on accommodations for children with ASD and helping children to regulate within the environment of the classroom. Pillows for sitting, weighted vests, fidgets, and breathing exercises can all provide sensory input that helps children feel more in control.  
    • Continuing to use the coping skills learned in OT can be beneficial. Using weighted blankets, drinking through a straw, chewing gums, wearing headphones in public places, and using fidget toys are all compensatory measures that can be helpful even for teenagers and adults. As people grow and mature, they learn to avoid potentially overwhelming situations, and how to develop strategies for self-help.  
    • Maturity can also bring the motivation to tolerate discomfort. Young children are not as self-aware as teenagers and adults, and so they may not realize which behaviors are not socially appropriate. As kids grow up, they learn to manage some of their sensory issues, so that they can achieve things they want, like staying in a social situation a little while longer. There are also neurodevelopmental processes that can help change certain behaviors and improve sensory issues.  
    • Sometimes, sensory issues stick around. Not everyone with sensory issues improve with time. Some people still require some accommodation in order to function in situations that they find stressful or overwhelming. Knowing how to adapt and how to self-advocate is important in managing sensory issues. Avoiding triggers like crowds and loud noises can help, as can compensatory tools like soft clothing and dark glasses. Technology is also a boon, and there are adaptive and assistive technology tools that can help people with sensory processing issues accomplish things they might otherwise have been unable to manage.  

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896. 

  • Conditions that Commonly Accompany Autism Spectrum Disorder

    People with Autism Spectrum Disorder face many challenges, not just from ASD, but also from conditions that often accompany it. Varying from one person to the next, these co-occurring conditions can have an impact on the timing of an ASD diagnosis, or can exacerbate symptoms. Since more than half of people with ASD have four or more accompanying conditions, it’s important to understand how some of the more common ones interact with ASD.  

    Conditions that coincide with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically fall into one of four categories: medical problems, developmental diagnoses, mental-health conditions, and genetic conditions. Examples of medical issues include epilepsy, gastrointestinal problems, or sleep disorders, while genetic conditions may include things like tuberous sclerosis complex and fragile X syndrome. Developmental diagnoses like language delay or an intellectual disability are common, as are mental-health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

    The occurrence of these conditions is hard to estimate, largely because of differences in diagnostic criteria and the diversity of people who have ASD. A child with a mood disorder, for instance, may not be accurately diagnosed if he or she does not speak. What’s more, presenting concerns like anxiety can look different in people with ASD than they do in those who are neurotypical. To try and overcome difficulties in diagnosis, researchers are looking for innovative solutions, like an autism-specific depression-screening questionnaire.  

    It’s important that we take a closer look at these co-occurring conditions because they can have a direct impact on a person’s well-being. If we could reach a better understanding of these conditions, we could improve the quality of life for people with ASD. Sometimes, resolving one of these accompanying conditions may even ease the symptoms of ASD. For instance, when sleep or gastrointestinal problems are resolved, the result is often improved mood and a decrease in the severity of challenging behaviors.  

    Unfortunately, the conditions that accompany ASD may complicate the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. That’s because there can be overlap between the traits of ASD and the symptoms of a co-occurring condition. Sometimes, the relationship between these conditions and ASD is complicated and multifaceted. Through further studying these conditions and their connections to Autism Spectrum Disorder, researchers are hoping to come to a better understanding of how the conditions relate and how to help people with ASD live better lives. 

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.644.7827.  

  • Understanding Asperger’s 

    How much do you know about Asperger’s? Asperger’s is a mild form of Autism Spectrum Disorderand some experts believe it’s present in at least one in every 250 people. Many historical figures, like Mozart, Einstein, Marie Curie, and Thomas Jefferson, have shown symptoms of Asperger’s, and yet the condition is not something that most people really understand. Recently, Josephine Mele, whose grandson has Asperger’s, came up with an ingenious way to help people understand Asperger’s, using this ABC guide.  

    • A: Aloof. Kids with Asperger’s are often perceived as aloof, when in fact, it’s just that they lack social skills. They’re not always good with abstract concepts, so they’re better at games with step-by-step rules.  
    • BBehavior. Sometimes people perceive children with Asperger’s or another type of Autism Spectrum Disorder as having behavioral problems, but it’s actually a medical problem.  
    • C: Conversation. Conversations can be awkward for a child with Asperger’ because they don’t understand small talk. Instead, they use talking simply to share information. 
    • D: Different. A child with Asperger’s typically becomes aware of his or her differences from other kids at around age 7.  
    • E: Eye contact. Children with Asperger’s tend to avoid eye contact, even as infants. They may have trouble concentrating on what someone is saying if they are looking into a person’s eyes.  
    • F: Favorite subjects. A child with Asperger’s will want to talk about every detail of a favorite topic, whether or not the other person is interested.  
    • G: Groups. Groups are often a problem for kids with Asperger’s because they have an unusually strong sense of hearing. Overwhelmed by the noise level of a large group, they may act out.  
    • H: Hyperactive. Hyperactivity is a common symptom of Asperger’s. 
    • I: Impulsive. Because of an inability to see things from another person’s perspective, kids with Asperger’s often display impulsive behavior that can be embarrassing for parents in public.  
    • J: Jokes. Kids with Asperger’s tend to absorb information literally, so they often have trouble with pretend play or jokes.  
    • K: Kindergarten. Kindergarten can be challenging for a child with Asperger’s because everything is new, unfamiliar, and confusing.  
    • L: Listening. Kids who have Asperger’s can be good at listening, even if they don’t seem to be paying attention. When they’re not interested in the topic, though, they may not listen. 
    • M: Motor skills. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to have difficulty with muscle control, which impedes their motor skills.  
    • N: Naïve. Because kids with Asperger’s are honest, with good intentions, and expect others to be the same, they’re often the target of practical jokers and bullies. They take things at face value and believe things without question.  
    • O: Order. Kids with Asperger’s function better when everything is in the same place all the time: order is important. 
    • P: Patience. Like other kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, children with Asperger’s lack patience when they need something, but have a lot of patience with babies, animals, older people, and people with special needs.  
    • Q: Questions. Lacking a social filter, kids with Asperger’s may ask questions at inappropriate times and don’t respond when told to stop.  
    • R: Routine. Routines are absolutely necessary, and kids with Asperger’s may have trouble coping with changes to the schedule or rules. 
    • S: Sitting. Sitting still can be difficult with Asperger’s, because cramping, twitching muscles can pose a physical problem. 
    • T: Tantrums. Tantrums thrown by a child with Asperger’ can be out of control, and often seem to lack cause.  
    • U: Understanding. Kids with Asperger’require extra understanding because they learn differently than other children.  
    • V: Voice. Children with Asperger’s may have trouble reading aloud, because their voices often sound like they lack intonation or emotion, and each word is spoken as stand-alone information rather than part of a story. 
    • W: Weight. Full-length body contact, perhaps from a heavy blanket or a strong hug, can calm down an overactive brain. 
    • X: X-ray. Doctors are using x-rays and brain scans to gather more information on Asperger’sThis is how they know that the brain of someone with Asperger’s works differently than a neurotypical brain.  
    • Y: Young. The younger a child can be diagnosed with Asperger’s, the sooner he or she can get the help needed to be successful. That’s why all children should be screened for developmental delays at 18 and 24 months old.  
    • Z: Zone. Children with Asperger’s can get so deeply involved in what they’re doing that it’s often hard to get them out of the zone and help them focus on something else. Setting a time limit, requiring breaks, and giving a warning may help.  

    Learning about Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder is the first step towards understanding and being able to help a child with ASD navigate the world. If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.

  • Sesame Street Character Speaks Volumes About Life on the Spectrum 

    Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 68 kids in the United States, and yet for children with ASD, it can often be challenging to find themselves reflected in our culture. In an exciting move, long-running children’s show, Sesame Street, has taken a step to remedy that. Julia, a sweet little girl who loves the show’s theme song, “Sunny Days,” has just been introduced as the first Muppet with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

    Sesame Street has been on since 1969, and it still has a powerful effect on children. What makes the program so unique is that it’s created as a realistic place that resembles what children actually experience in the world. Though the Muppets themselves are fantastical characters, their experiences mirror reality in a way that children can appreciate and understand. Through these relatable characters, Sesame Street has tackled issues like death, hunger, incarcerated parents, and even HIV, helping children understand the world around them even as they’re learning their ABC’s and 1,2,3’s.  

    The idea for a character with ASD originated in the late 1990s with Leslie Kimmelman, then an editor at Sesame Magazine. Her young son, Greg, had Autism Spectrum Disorder and seemed to really connect with the Sesame Street characters and content, singing along with the songs and developing a fascination with Elmo. Kimmelman discovered that there were other parents on staff whose children had ASD, and they began discussing the possibility of giving the children an opportunity to see a reflection of themselves on the show. What’s more, they thought, a character with ASD would give other children a chance to better understand the disorder as well.  

    The challenge of creating such a character had to do with ASD itself. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are an extremely diverse group, ranging from children who are chatty but socially unaware to children who do not speak and have significant sensory issues. Some people with ASD need support for the most basic needs, while others are simply differently-abled, rather than disabled. How could a Sesame Street character navigate the landscape of ASD, offering an accurate representation when the defining characteristics are so wide-ranging? 

    To tackle this project, Sesame Street consulted with educators, psychologists, and activists. Starting in 2010, their creative teams worked with experts on ASD, Sesame staff visited schools and clinics, and Leslie Kimmelman was asked to write a storybook in which a character with ASD was featured. Once they decided that the character would be a girl, Kimmelman named her Julia, after her older daughter, and her book, We’re Amazing, 1,2,3introduced Julia to the world in 2015.  

    The central theme behind Sesame Street’s approach to ASD is that it doesn’t define a person. Understanding that it’s human nature to define people by what makes them different from us, Sesame’s response is the concept, “See Amazing in All Children.” Just as Big Bird is not defined by his feathers and Oscar’s worth is not determined by his trashcan, Julia has her own unique personality, in which ASD is merely a factor.  

    Bringing Julia to life is a team of artists, writers, actors, puppeteers, and others who often draw on their own lives for inspiration. The puppeteer has a son with ASD, the designer has a friend with ASD, and the person with ASD in the scriptwriter’s life is her older brother. Their experiences in life inform their work and help make Julia a fully realized character. Their goals include clarifying and destigmatizing Autism Spectrum Disorder for viewers.  

    Julia’s on-air debut happened this past April, during Autism Awareness Month, on an episode in which she creates a vivid, precise painting and plays tag with the other kids on Sesame Street. Along the way she behaves in ways that confuse Big Bird, failing to respond when he says hello, for example, flapping her arms when she’s excited, and jumping up and down while playing tag. Abby Cadabby, another popular character on the show, acts as Julia’s champion and Big Bird’s guide, explaining that Julia has ASD and “just does things a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.” 

    The response to this new character has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder feel that their kids are being validated by seeing a character with whom they can relate, and people with ASD are responding with letters and emails expressing excitement over seeing a reflection of themselves on Sesame Street. The Georgetown Center for Child and Human Development, studying the impact of Sesame Street’s autism initiative’s website, stated that the site can help “reduce biases and stigma, increase acceptance and inclusion, and empower ASD with knowledge and positive information about themselves.” Those are worthy goals, and certainly challenging, but with the help of Julia, Sesame Street is well on the way to helping bring positive change to societal attitudes about children with ASD.  

    If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.