According to Business Insider, more than half of US homes have at least one television. Those are millions of people that have access to a television and the copious programming available. Of that programming, there are a number of channels dedicated just for children 16 and younger. From PBS Kids to Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, there is programming for every child out there. As kids grow, they start identifying with different characters and prefer shows that mirror the phase they’re experiencing in real life. Unfortunately, children with autism find it harder to identify with most characters in TV shows and movies. Most characters are neuro-typical yet the overall population of children with autism is growing and TV and film don’t equally represent that population.
Fortunately, there is progress and in recent news more characters on the spectrum are being developed. On April 10th, Sesame Street will introduce a Muppet with autism, Julia, to the show. The documentary, Life Animated, following the life of a boy with autism transition into adulthood, was nominated an Academy Award this past month. Even the upcoming action film Power Rangers will feature Billy the Blue Ranger on the autism spectrum.
Dean Isralite, director of Power Rangers, states ““I think people are scared to represent issues that are going on in our world that are controversial. I think people don’t want to divide audiences, honestly, when you’re making a movie of this size, scale and with this price tag, but what was important to us is that we were truthful about representing teenagers and what they go through today, and giving voices to characters that are underrepresented in not just movies, but also superhero movies.”
Television and film play a significant role in the shaping of children’s perceptions of the world. The importance of a character with autism on a popular show or movie is significant. That character reaches the homes of millions of families that will gain a better understanding of autism by just becoming aware of what autism looks like. Children will have exposure to autism so they are better able to interact with fellow classmates, friends, or strangers with autism.
The voice of the Sesame Street’s Julia, Stacey Gordon, put it best, “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”
The American Autism Association applauds these shows for their role in raising autism awareness.