dear abby cadabby

Dear Abby Cadabby,

Hi, kiddo. You might remember that we met this past summer. This was you hugging my eleven year-old daughter, Brooke, who is autistic …

securedownload-10[1]

{image is a photo of Brooke hugging Abby Cadabby at Sesame Place, Summer, 2013}

She was sooooo excited to meet you at Sesame Place this summer, along with Elmo and Zoe, Bert and Ernie, Oscar and Grover and Cookie, and, of course, her very favorite character in all the world, Prairie Dawn.

You guys were awesome and we really hope we can come visit you again this summer. You see, even though Brooke just turned eleven, she still watches Elmo’s World almost every day. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but her older sister, who’s thirteen, maybe sort of had a blast there too. Shh, that’s our secret, k?

I’m writing today because I wanted to thank you and your friends at Sesame Street for creating See Amazing in All Children! to help what grown-ups call “typically developing” kids to learn more about their autistic peers. You guys on Sesame Street have always set such a wonderful example, even for us grown-ups, about what real inclusion looks like, and how differences aren’t anything to be afraid of, but just part of what makes us all our very own special selves. I’ve always been grateful for that, but as a mom of a kiddo whose brain works a little (and sometimes a lot!) differently from her peers, it means even more to me now.

And now that you’re going to focus specifically on autism, I want you to know that lots and lots of us out here really appreciate that. Because even though people say that they know about autism, they don’t always take the time to get to know autistic people. But I know that Sesame Street is going to be different. Because you DO take the time to get to know people - and monsters, of course! – and to show kids that we all have some things that are the same and some things that are different and that we all, if we take the time to really learn about each other, can be friends.

My daughter, Brooke, loves Elmo’s World. Her favorite episodes seem to be the ones in which there’s a character who has some kind of difference. She loves Elmo Ears, the one with Alex, who is deaf, and his friend Emily who isn’t. She perseverates on it, in fact (that’s just a really big word for thinks about it a lot). “Alex doesn’t hear with his ears,” she says, over and over again, “but Emily does.”

And then she tells me how he listens to music with his hands, and dances to the beat that he feels in his heart. She sees that there’s no singular or “right” way to experience and appreciate music. Even though some people think that learning letters and numbers are the point of Sesame Street, I think that stuff like this is even more important.

I know that since Sesame Street announced that you’ll be partnering on this initiative with Autism Speaks, you’ve heard from some people like me who aren’t so happy about that. They probably use a lot of big words and might seem kind of angry and hurt and I’m thinking that must be a little confusing to a sensitive young fairy in training like yourself. So I want you to know that no one’s mad at you, okay? I promise. You just want to help, and that means everything.

But it’s important to understand that those people who are writing to you are angry and hurt for a reason. You see, that group that you’re working on this project with, Autism Speaks? Well, their words and actions can be very hurtful to autistic people. I know that probably sounds kinda funny, and it does to us too (not funny like haha, but funny, like doesn’t really make sense), but, well, as we grow up we all start to see that not everything is always as simple as it seems. Kind of a bummer, I know.

More than anything, the problem is that the people who run Autism Speaks don’t listen to the autistic people who speak up about how they feel and they say a lot of stuff that those people, the very people whom they’re supposed to be representing, don’t agree with.

Maybe we can make this a little easier to understand this way …

Can you imagine if a group called Fairies-In-training Speaks (FITS) didn’t listen to what YOU had to say about being a fairy in training? Wouldn’t that be silly? It might even give you fits! Get it? Anyway, I know you’re great at pretending, so let’s pretend that we’re still talking about fairies instead of autism, okay? I think it might be easier to explain that way.

You see, one of the big problems, Abby, is that Autism Speaks says over and over again that their mission to find a cure for fairyness, because it can be so hard to be a fairy in today’s world, even though lots and lots (and lots!) of autistic people – er, fairies, say that they really love their wings and wouldn’t ever want to be anything else. They’ve said that they need some extra help learning to fly, but that they’re happy being who they are. And they really, really want people to understand that being a fairy doesn’t make them broken or diseased, it just makes them, well, a fairy. And they want everyone to stop being so afraid of fairies, so they ask them to stop saying things like the founder of Autism Speaks said a few months ago, when she was telling the whole world what she thinks all autism families are like. “Life is lived moment-to-moment,” she said. “In anticipation of the [fairy’s] next move.  In despair.  In fear of the future.” Some people may feel that way, Abby, but not all of us. It defintely doesn’t describe my family’s life.

But FITS – er, AS, just keeps telling everyone that if their kids are fairies, they must be terrified, despairing, and broken. And so, even though they say that they’re trying to help fairies, the fairies say that they’re actually making it harder to be who they are. And it really hurts when they keep hearing these things about themselves, said as if they weren’t even there or couldn’t understand the words. So they get angry, and people like me get scared because, while we do want the world to know that our kids need help and support and that research and resources are really necessary, we don’t ever want them to think that it’s okay to treat people like they’re not even there. And to make them sound scary, or “lost” or violent.

I know that all of this is pretty confusing for a three year-old. More than anything, I just want you to know you’re doing a really wonderful thing by trying to help people with autism and to teach those without it a little bit about it too. Oh, and including the autistic young adults at Exceptional Minds in the production of the show? Well, you know that’s awesome.

But I have a favor to ask, okay? I need you to make sure that when you’re putting all of this together, you ask autistic people for help. There are lots and lots of them out there, waiting and willing to work with you and your friends to ensure that the tools you present are uselful, the message you send is helpful (and not inadvertently harmful), and that the wonderful work that you and your monster friends do to focus on people continues. Just ask your producers to click HERE, okay? It’ll take them to a group called Autistic Self Advocacy Network and it’s awesome.

Thank you, Abby, you rock.

Gotta poof now!

Love,

Jess (Brooke and Katie’s mom)

Ed note: Please feel free to copy this letter (with a link to the post!) to Abby’s friend, Pam and the rest of their friends at Sesame Street. Their addresses are autism@sesame.org and pam.hacker@sesameworkshop.org. Thank you!

securedownload-9[1]

{image is a photo of Brooke in Prairie Dawn’s arms, the highlight of her trip to Sesame}

About these ads

12 thoughts on “dear abby cadabby

  1. This is brilliant. I already sent in my own letter several days ago (and received a very respectful reply in return), but this…. Yep, it’s brilliant.

  2. Wonderful! Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of putting into words what so many of us feel but could never express so eloquently.

  3. Thank you, Jess for this letter. I don’t have a child with autism, however I work at a school for children with developmental disabilities and autism. I have read material from AS to try to better understand my students, but I won’t be doing so anymore. Because of this and other posts you have made on your blog, and I am seeking out information from the best source, those that have autism. Any links you have would be appreciated.

    • mindy, thank you for that. a great place to start is over to the right there (or below on a moblie device) in the blogroll .. you’ll find a category called “vital perspectives from autistic adults” :)

  4. For what is worth we could all learn a lot about a lot of things from Sesame Street. They covered so many topics well including bereavement when Mr Hooper died, adoption, having a lady who used sign language to communicate. Many boys just loved Sesame Street…

  5. I copied and added my own $.02. On April 2, I posted to my local mom friends about my experiences with my 2 kids on the spectrum, and I added that I don’t want my kids cured. I listed some famous people that are thought to have ASDs and said that the world needs those that don’t think in boxes ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Isaac Newton, Steven Speilberg, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. Our world would be so different if they had been “cured” in childhood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s