A whopping one in 59 children in the U.S. has autism, meaning your child probably has at least one person in their grade who's on the spectrum. Thankfully, Sesame Street is doing its part to teach children (and us adults) about how to better interact with their classmates and friends with autism.
For April, which is Autism Awareness Month, Sesame Street released a YouTube video of Julia and Sam, two characters on the show. The two puppets are playing a game of tag, and then show us a "starfish hug" in which the two characters touch fingertips together like each finger is the leg of a starfish.
"Because Julia has autism, she doesn't like big hugs," Sam tells another character, Abby. "So we do a starfish hug instead."
Instead of big hugs, kids with autism are more touch-sensitive and can feel sensory overload from traditional physical contact. The characters also come up with cute names for other variations, like a fairy hug in which each child moves their hands together, or a butterfly hug to mimic the flapping wings.
In 2017, Julia, the first muppet with autism, joined Sesame Street. The beloved children’s series leaned into inclusivity and autism education even more by adding Julia’s entire family to the show earlier this month.
Research has shown that activities like animal interaction and outdoor play can be highly therapeutic for children on the autism spectrum, and we were thrilled to learn that more theme parks and family destinations are offering safe, sensory-friendly and certified options for visitors with autism.
SeaWorld Orlando recently announced that it became autism-certified, too, which means that at least 80 percent of the park staff will receive specialized training in order to meet the needs of all children, especially those with special needs. Sensory guides will also be available around the park, in addition to quiet rooms and low-sensory areas, so kids (and parents) can take a break if necessary. Pittsburgh-area theme park Kennywood also just became autism-certified. (Summer vacay plans, anyone?)
Sending all the starfish hugs your way, Sesame Street.