Representation of Autistics in the Media – Carl (Arthur) and Julia (Sesame Street)

Today, I’ll be looking into two different children characters that have been confirmed to be on the Autism Spectrum. Carl from Arthur and Julia from Sesame Street.

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Carl Gould (Arthur) Debuted: 2010

Carl Gould debuted in the Arthur series in 2010. The Episode “When Carl Met George” Debuted in April 5th 2010. Quite a recent example which I found surprising.

The episode starts with George in his room finding a “puzzle piece” in his closet, showing that it will be important later. He briefly talks about Carl and his behaviours (all while Carl is in the room). The explanations include Carl’s behaviour’s with trains and how he likes expressing his favourite colour is blue or other objects instead of directly replying to George.

The episode then flashbacks when he first meets George in a support classroom different from George’s class. George gets along with Carl and finds him funny (due to his different behaviour and miscommunication). He is also impressed with George’s attention to detail and can draw trains accurately by memory. However, Carl leaves with his mum and leaves a puzzle piece behind. George finds it and decides to return it the next time he sees Carl.

George is fascinated and excited to be Carl’s friend. He then decides to take his ventriloquist dummy (which is a giraffe) and shows it to Carl, which causes him to have a meltdown. He starts to make noises and rocks back and forward. George, confused with what just happened, his mum turns up to comfort Carl and explains that he has “Asperger’s Syndrome”.

Next scene, George feels defeated while waiting on a smoothie getting made. Brain, another supporting character explains that his relative also has Asperger’s syndrome and explains the differences between autistic people and normal people in a colourful flashback (video link above).

The next day, George plans on returning the puzzle piece, but gets fantasies of Carl freaking out over a missing piece. At first he can’t find him as he’s not at the usual place, but when he does find Carl. The puzzle has been completed. George gives Carl the real piece and Carl throws the old one away, as it was a copy made by him and his mum. George then finds the copied piece and keeps it as a memento. We flash-forward to George’s room again while Carl is looking at a train picture.

Okay, my thoughts. The puzzle piece made me cringe, a lot. As I associate it with a specific “charity”. I understand it’s George’s connection to Carl, but it still seems off. Carl, while he can be relatable with his enthusiasm to trains, his speech for example: “You’re George. I met you Tuesday. You were getting a bottle of glue for your dad”. His communication relies on details. What colour or item you have, what day you met etc. It may seem disconnected to conversation but it’s the way Carl communicates with George.

Aspergers is now an outdated term and I’m surprised it’s been used a few times in this episode. The fantasy sequence when Brain explains that Autism is a different way of thinking is good. It’s explained well for children and it’s not patronising. Arthur can be good at explaining serious situations but with a kid friendly twist ( however, Some examples can be executed clumsily like the vegetarian episode or even the kosher one!). Even Mr Ratburn’s wedding was done with good taste, no patronising language whatsoever! The Arthur series brings optimism in this episode which is nice!

Sadly, Carl does fall into the stereotype though. He works alone, monotone, loves trains and is a boy. Another autistic boy in the media. Carl has been included in a few more episodes (some are only cameos). However, Since he’s not a major supporting character, I feel that he may be more of a tool for Autism awareness. He hasn’t got character besides his autistic traits. He is “walking autism” which is pretty sad. Carl isn’t the worst example I’ve seen, and I actually enjoyed the episode. However, there still needs to be a few tweaks and also updated information as Aspergers is outdated!

I found this clip from another episode and it seems that Carl’s been attending “therapy” in order to improve his social skills. Even attempting to say “how are you?” with a lot of effort. I don’t know how to feel about this, as it gives me ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) vibes (not good).  Carl was separated from other kids in the classroom. This feels outdated as Autistic’s can be in the same classroom as other children, but some have additional helpers to help them. I did when I was at school.

 

  • Julia (Sesame Street) Debuted: 2015

In Summary, Big Bird doesn’t understand Julia’s autistic traits and is slowly learning. Elmo and Abby are more understanding. The show showcases her traits and also examples of sensory overload, then they all sing in the end with Julia joining in. I recommend watching the video above!

My first impressions: JULIA IS ADORABLE!

Julia was the hype when she was first announced. Julia is officially confirmed autistic. I’ve noticed that she is the more creative example of an autistic character. She’s also a girl, which can be relatable to a lot of young autistic girls out there. A few examples from the clip show that

  • Julia is engrossed in painting that she doesn’t hear Big Bird call her name.
  • Shes a fantastic Artist.
  • She has a stim toy Fluffster that shes attached to (also the subject on her painting)
  • She loves to flap when shes happy. Happy stimming! The rest of the crew join in.
  • She also bounces as a stim.
  • She has sensitive hearing so alarms are painful. She repeats the phrase “noise”.
  • She doesn’t like being touched when in sensory overload (example, the loud noises)

Her behaviours of repeating or saying random words is her way of communicating. I find it adorable when she joins in singing in the end. Their motto is that “everyone’s different”. Simple but it works, especially for a show aimed at really young kids. Autism is used with confidence, with Elmo and Big Bird using the word.

Julia expresses emotion a lot and is brimming with positivism. A great example of breaking the stereotypes. Her autistic symptoms are portrayed more naturally without losing her characterisation. She’s Julia, not “autism girl”. She fits in with the rest of the characters and it doesn’t feel forced. This shows that Autism is different for everyone and it’s not just a boys condition! Her behaviour is encouraged and she receives support when she needs it. The characters all try to include her with her games and even try her stims as a fun activity. I find this cute as anyone regardless of Neurology needs to try different things, including stimming. Stimming is for everyone and should be encouraged (the safe kind of course!).

However, I’ve seen other Sesame Street examples of autism information and I found them pretty weak. Nothing tops Julia actually being on the show. It’s better to express autism rather than just explaining it. There definitely has been a lot of research behind the conception of Julia and I think it shows.

Julia is a glimmer of hope for future Autistic representation. Carl, is one of the better boy examples, but could be improved with better characterisation. Two different examples of autistic characters show that each autistic person is a case by case basis.

I feel that now autism representation in children characters are slowly getting there, Now we need to also focus on more categories. Perhaps adults, LGBT or people of colour perhaps?

 

 

 

 

 

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