Teaching Him to Read pt 6: Sesame Street and Service Dogs

link to previous post: https://thepoliticsofreading.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/teaching-him-to-read-pt-5-interventions/

April is Autism Awareness (and Acceptance) Month.  I don’t want to stray too far from the topic of literacy, but I came across this important video today.  Sesame Street has just introduced Julia, a character with autism.  I was a bit skeptical when I clicked on the link because I had no idea how they’d manage to portray autism through a puppet.  Sesame Street really nailed it, though.  It also turns out that the puppeteer’s son has autism. Sesame Street included many key autistic behaviors, such as:

  • echolalia (repeating something back to someone)
    • example: Alan asks, “Can Big Bird see your painting?”  Julia responds, “See your painting, yes!”
    • Notice that Julia says “your” even when she means “my.”  I touched on this phenomenon a bit in my post about teaching my brother function words.
  • hand flapping
  • jumping
  • responding differently to social cues
    • example: Julia seems to ignore Big Bird’s greeting at first.
  • stimming (self-stimulation, which can include talking to oneself)
  • carrying a comforting object around
    • example: Julia finds comfort in her stuffed bunny.  My brother has found comfort in small toys/objects before too.
  • sensory overload
    • example: Julia gets overstimulated when she hears a siren.  She covers her ears and needs to go take a break from playing.

The episode ends with everyone singing a song to celebrate people’s differences.  In this class, we’ve had many discussions about how to address social justice issues early on.  (Julio Cammarota’s talk went deeper into the matter of social justice in the classroom.)  The general consensus of these discussions was that we not only need to trust children more with what they can handle, but it’s also vital to instill certain values early.  Although Sesame Street isn’t part of the school day, it is definitely educational.  I’m hopeful that the show’s inclusion of an autistic character will help contribute to a more aware and open-minded generation.  That thinking may be too idealistic, but I believe that children’s shows are more powerful than we think.


Focusing back in on my brother, I think his journey in literacy is about to improve drastically.  This could just be the idealism striking again, but I am optimistic nonetheless.  He is getting a service dog tomorrow, after waiting nearly a year, to help manage his epilepsy.  Nearly 1/3 of people with autism also have epilepsy, and my brother’s seizures have been very difficult.  I mentioned in my introduction post that his seizures have been a major setback in his literacy.  They erased progress that he’d made over years, but it’s risky to really try reading with him again.  When he concentrates for too long, it is taxing.  He becomes much more vulnerable to a seizure.  If the service dog performs her duties, though, she will be able to alert us when a seizure is coming on.  This means that we now can feel safer in many reading-related activities, such as:

  1. Doing his reading program on the computer
  2. Typing on the iPad
  3. Practicing handwriting
  4. Sitting down to read a long book, like Dr. Seuss

Josh hasn’t been able to engage in activities 1 & 2 because screens are a seizure trigger.  3 & 4 don’t involve screens, but these activities tend to be exhausting for him, which can also cause a seizure.  Having a service dog will likely be quite an adjustment, but I can’t wait to explore the reading opportunities that she will afford us.

Regarding taking the dog to school, August has an awesome post that relates:


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3 Responses to Teaching Him to Read pt 6: Sesame Street and Service Dogs

  1. Autumn Grace says:

    Great post!

    I think it is so awesome that Sesame Street included an autistic character, because like you said, hopefully, this will help create a more open-minded generation. As you discussed about the Cammarota lecture, social justice issues are so relevant now, and it is important to instill these values in children early on. I think, even though it is a tv show, it can still be very effective, because children absorb more information and context from what they see and hear than we give them credit for.

    As for your brother, I think that is so awesome and exciting that he is finally getting a service dog, I do not have near as much experience as you, but there was a kid in my summer camp who had epilepsy and seizures, and I think he would have really benefited from a service dog; it would give his parents a little more peace to know when a seizure was about to happen.

    I am so interested in the topic of autism and learning more about it, because as a future teacher, I am trying to educate myself about as many things that I will likely encounter before I am thrown in full force. You have helped show me what autism can look like, as it relates to reading, through the stories about your brother. I think it is great that you wrote about him and your experiences together!


  2. madisongoers1 says:

    First of all, I love that April is Autism Awareness Month and look forward to spreading awareness and bringing attention to ASD each spring. Thank you for sharing this news as I think it is incredible that Sesame Street has decided to introduce a character with autism! This really excites me and I hope that they are able to portray characteristic behaviors of autism accurately. I am so glad that we are taking the initiative to celebrate differences and teach children that it is okay to be different. Children are much more receptive than we think and it would be incredible if this would spread to the larger community and in schools where children likely have peers with autism. I would like to look more into this new character but wonder if Sesame Street has (or will) allude specifically to autism defining autism for a young population and consequently teach about characteristics of this developmental disability? I really enjoyed reading about this and cannot wait to share it with others!

    In regards to the latter part of your blog post, I am so glad that your brother has finally gotten his service dog after a year of waiting and hopefully this will allow for him to engage in activities that have induced hesitation in the past! Looking at the date of your post, this was just over 5 days ago and I would love to know how that is going. Thanks again for sharing, Jordan!


  3. Pingback: Teaching Him to Read pt. 7: Service Dogs (cont’) | The Politics of Reading

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