Helping Creators Create Change!
Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, is an amazing effort to help neurotypical children learn more about their autistic peers but the responses from autistic advocates are not all positive, and for precisely that reason. As Erin Human points out in her blog post Not in Love with Julia, “it’s all about autistic kids, but it’s not for them”. Human is a blogger who writes about the deeper messaging, the ableist messaging that needs to be addressed, in an effort towards social change.
Since the launch of Sesame Streets’ autism resources I’ve been experiencing #seeamazing for myself. I’ve watched the videos of the different parents and children at home, at school and in the playground, read the resources and watched the responses flow on social media. I have no doubt that Sesame Street’s brand power will help to change to world. But its important to also provide the criticism that will help the public have an understanding of ableism and help creators avoid an ableist message. That’s why I’ve decided to use Erin Human’s blog post and Sesame Street’s See Amazing as inspiration to write… 5 amazing strategies to help creators change ableist culture.
First some personal context and background! In 2012 I had an opportunity to meet the folks from Sesame Street while working with the video game studio Game Pill in Toronto. I was was excited to hear that Sesame Street, well known for representing cultural and social difference in children’s media and entertainment, was going to be making something for my autistic friends! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer my allied expertise and chat about neurodiversity and the advocacy groups that were influencing what would soon become Every1Games. In 2014, after establishing our awesome skills development programs, Every1Games hosted the first Autism Friendly Unconference where one of the most popular sessions was Autism in the Media, discussing the representation of autism on screens. I asked, should we be asking creators for more autistic characters, and what could that look like? One participant had us consider that most characters representing a minority group are shallow representations of stereotypes that further stigmatize people. This was something I feared when Sesame Street started talking about an autistic character and what I thought Erin Human was going to be addressing in her blog. But its not. She is addressing ABLEISM. Not Julia’s character. I really like Julia, she is a smart, female, autistic character who likes to sing and play. I am very excited to see what adventures she will have.
See 5 Amazing Strategies to Change Ableist Culture
14 different organizations are listed as advisors for Sesame Streets resources. This is a good number of perspectives to consider. But in the face of social change it has to be acknowledged that current perspectives are in need of change. Just because an organization has autism in its name, or is really popular, does not mean it is a good resource. Be sure you are speaking with advocates that can help you understand neurodiversity and ableism.
Sesame Street’s autism resources was intended for communities with children ages 2 to 5, offering families ways to “overcome common challenges and simplify everyday activities”. As a result, the resources are actually mostly for parents, not for children (and I have a feeling that this was influenced by parents who were a part of the initiative). Sesame Street has used a number of videos that Human describes as “classic complaining parents”. Parents play a significant role in the public understanding of autism and changing ableist culture.
They are also the crux of Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn For Us” (1993) that spurred a revolution and generation of advocates. To better explain, I found a quote I like that might help readers understand what advocates are fighting for… “We need to go to a world that finding out your child is autistic is no more tramatic or horrible or scary than finding out your child is gay (yes, I realize some people don’t have parents that can accept LGBT people – but that’s changing and the next generation will have an easier time, until one day no child is rejected on the basis of LGBT identity).
Human points out “there is a time and place to talk about how hard parenting your autistic kids can be, and it’s the same place you talk about how hard parenting your typical kids can be, how hard your marriage can be, how hard your friendships can be – privately, with trusted friends and family.” Though I value media for expressing all types of narratives, I still strongly believe she is right. I see the result of parents who will not stop trying to normalize their child, the guilt, the negative emotional effects of the children who are now grown up and are still thinking they have been a burden on their parents, or still are a burden.
Okay, this may require some explaining too, especially if this is your first resource about ableism at this given point in history. Let’s use eye contact as an example. Eye contact is a social convention that can have different meanings across different cultures, but here we talk about eye contact as something non-autistic people do, and expect, that an autistic person might not do. Making autistic children learn to look people in the eye only has one purpose, making them do what neurotypical people do, despite the physical, emotional and social distress it may cause the autistic child. Can you see the problem here? This is seen over and over again in the video resources Sesame Street has put together.
Here is an example! Why are Yesenia’s sisters physically restraining her so that her parents could brush her teeth and hair? This is something that Yesenia is going to watch and remember. This is not appropriate anymore. We need better products and services, like hair brushes that do not have teeth, dental care that is not intense and burning, etc. We are in need of love, innovation and understanding that will help children like Yesenia take care of her physical health without being restrained.
A PERFECT EXAMPLE! This awesome barber (above), James Williams, who is currently going viral for being accommodating and understanding while giving a 3 year old autistic child a hair cut.
People with autism? Autistic people? We have been asked many times what is the proper terminology when talking about autism. It is also the very first thing I noticed when meeting Julia. Sesame Street used PFL also know as “Person First Language”. When you hear some say that a child “HAS” autism its PFL. Most autistic advocates do not like this. It is offensive to many and that is why at Every1Games we use IFL also known as “Identity First Langauge”, or as user kategladstone commented “Inclusion First Language” which I also like. But lots of people believe that PFL is just as good as IFL if used in a positive affirming way. You can see this in the comments of Humans blog, and I have pasted a few resources below that speak to why IFL is important to change with way autism is perceived. The good news is Sesame Street got the message and is now using IPL and PFL!
Keep Amazing Going! Sesame Street is encouraging everyone to share stories, pictures, and videos on social media using #SeeAmazing! This is what I think will have the most influence and will help change the world. The staff at Sesame Street are listening to the feedback from advocates, responding with glee and appreciation for the insight!
In the face of social change it has to be acknowledged that current perspectives are indeed in need of change. Be mindful of what is being shared. I think we will see a conversation that will lead to the understanding of autism and the non ableist culture we are all working towards.
We can learn a lot from Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, and the responses from the advocacy community. All things considered, what we love most about media is that anything is possible! Creators have an opportunity to develop autistic characters, narratives, and resources, that have depth and challenge stereotypes. I hope that this has been helpful as you consider what stories you want to share!
Blog Post By Sarah Drew
Human, Erin. “Not in Love with Julia.” Personal Blog. eisforerin.com/2015/10/23/not-in-love-with-julia, WordPress, October 23 2015. Accessed 11/3/2015.
Joel. “Don’t Mourn For Us. Even as a Phase.” Personal Blog. http://evilautie.org/2014/03/31/dont-mourn-for-us-even-as-a-phase, WordPress, March 31, 2014. Accessed 11/3/2015.
Every1Games invites you to Autism Friendly, a free event that brings together people to share questions, answers, and experiences related to autism.
If you’re autistic or neurodivergent and are willing to share something of your experience, or just want to meet informally with others, come on along. If you have questions or can offer a perspective on what it means to be autistic, join us at George Brown College on Saturday Aug 15 (10:00am – 4:00pm) to participate in Autism Friendly.
Participants of last years AFU were clear that Ontario’s support system needs improvement especially in the area of employment training and ASD sensitivity from co-workers. The autistic youth at the event were very clear, asking employers for guidance and understanding, instead of doubt and low expectations.
This years event aims to provide a more in depth discussion surrounding higher education and employment to identify issues and barriers as well as a plan of action that will lead to a better understanding of the diversity of the autism spectrum.
We again invite autistic self-advocates to come together with their peers, employers, educators, agencies and government to take another step forward in building an autism friendly future.
- Judgment Free
- Breakfast and Lunch
- Mutli-Sensory Lounge
- Raffle Prizes
When you register please suggest a topic or as a question so that together we can address what is most meaningful to you. The most asked questions and suggested topics will become sessions in different rooms. There are 15 sessions available (5, 45 minute sessions in 3 different rooms).
Autism Friendly is an opportunity to grow personally and professionally learning more about working with diversity while supporting autism in the workplace, at school and in the community.
Thank you to Autism Ontario Toronto Chapter for their support helping us bring delicious food for everyone to this great event! Thank you to George Brown College for providing space and support. Thank you to Ryerson University, SSHRC and OCE Social Entrepreneur Fellowship for supporting our outreach initiatives.
The Organizing Committee
The organizing committee is a neurodiverse group of staff who work at Every1Games Professional Services Inc.
What is an Unconference?
An unconference is a “participant driven meeting”. There is no pre-determined speakers or panels. Instead, we collect questions and suggestions from people attending to drive discussion based on what topics participants find most interesting or pertinent.
Who is Coming?
- Neurodivergent Post-Secondary Students and Self Advocates, Families and Wellness Professionals.
- At this event, you represent you and only you.
What are my transport/parking options getting to the event?
George Brown has provided details on various parking lots for the St. James Campus. Here is a link to view the details. If taking the TTC, the closest subway station is Queen Station, you can take the 501 or 504 Street Car from there to Jarvis and Queen St. E. It is a short walk from there. Please visit Google Maps or TTC Trip Planner to recieve directions from your location.
What can/can’t I bring to the event?
You can bring comfort / stim items, questions and perspective. Due to food allergies, please do not bring your own food to the event. If you require accomdation or specific dietary items please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?
You can contact Krystal Twiss at email@example.com with questions about this event.
Where: Snakes & Lattes at 600 Bloor St W
When: 6pm – 9pm
- Monday, August 17th, 2015
- Monday, August 31st, 2015
- Monday, September 21st, 2015
- Monday, October 5th, 2015
- Monday, October 19th, 2015
Free for Autism Ontario Members!
Want to know more about Game Development Night? Check out this video!
Want to know more about Snakes & Lattes Board Game Collection?
To join us for Social Nights@
Autism brings unique challenges in travelling on public transportation. Become comfortable and confident getting around Toronto at Keep Calm and Travel On!
This program runs Monday, July 13, to Friday, July 17, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. We have been updating and enriching the program content so that this summer’s program will be even more awesome! There are 2 levels open for registration and the cost of the program is $50.00 thanks to Autism Ontario Toronto Chapter!
Level 1 will teach participants the basic skills they need in order to take simple TTC trips independently.
- explore the most popular subway stations
- explore various TTC vehicles
- understand different methods of payment
- basics of trip planning
- basics of TTC etiquette
We will tailor the program to meet the needs of the participants.
Classroom portion from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm.
TTC Travel Portion from 1:20 pm – 3:30 pm.
Pickup will be at 4:00 pm at George Brown School of Design, 341 King St. E., Toronto.
To be prepared for Level 1, participants must be able to go 1 km to a store, school or or library and return home, unsupervised, using a map if necessary, without serious safety issues.
Level 2 will teach intermediate-level TTC skills to participants who can already take simple trips independently. We will cover the material from level one with more complex trip planning, using apps, various TTC vehicles, transfers, connecting from the TTC to GO Transit, and time management.
The Level 2 group will follow the same schedule as Level 1 on the first day.
TTC Travel Portion from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Classroom Portion from 1:20 pm – 3:30 pm.
Sign up for this course by clicking the link below
Last night Every1Games took home the First Place Award at Philanthropitch, the first ever Dragons Den style all in one pitch competition for charities, non-profits and social enterprises!
The $26, 860.00 in cash and other services awarded to Every1Games is going to help us grow our network of support. In the next year we will be bringing together game developers to address talent acquisition so that we can continue to support neurodivergent clients through to a career while meeting the needs of employers (creative studios) seeking talent. I am so proud of our staff at Every1Games, an amazing group of students and industry professionals helping participants in our programs develop the skills they need to succeed!
Thank you Social Ventures Partners, CSI and Toronto+Acumen, the founders of this amazing event and the 18 other organizations making up the Capacity Builder’s Collective who joined forces, funds and resources to make granting funds easier and more efficient for companies like Every1Games to access funding.
We are so grateful for this award. It is an honour to have been in competition with so many great people who are helping to create social impact in their neighbourhoods. Congratulations to all the finalists! Please take some time to check out these amazing businesses in Toronto, logos are linked to their websites :). (Common Ground Co-Op and Good Foot Delivery also work with the autism community!)
Also thank you to the judges who recognized the value of Every1Games. The panel of judges included Amanda Lang (Jounalist & Senior Business Correspondent, CBC), Jeannette Wiltse (COO, Relay Ventures), Tonya Surman (CEO, Centre for Social Innovation), Gianni Ciufo (Financial Advisory Partner, Deloitte), Rahul Bhardwaj (President & CEO, Toronto Foundation), Abigail Slater (Chair, Social Venture Partners), and Tanya Bass (Chair, Toronto+Acumen).
- Autism Ontario Members use Discount Code autismont for $100.00 discount before subsidy!
- Additional subsidies with Autism Ontario Toronto Chapter can help you save up to $400.00 to participate.
Rocco Brignanti (Winner of George Brown Best Programmer and Deans Excellence Award)
John Yao (Award Winning Concept Artist)
Crystal Fernandez (Winner of George Brown Best Animator and Deans Excellence Award)
Daniel Mozarowski (Game Designer at Neon Mountain Games and Winner of and Deans Excellence Award)
Learn More about this course, or sign up for this course by clicking the link below
Spring is here and sadly, March Break has ended. We played with Google Cardboard to experience virtual reality, learned life lessons with Chappie, and hung out on the set of Much Music. We also met with an awesome leading game development team in their Toronto studio, and more!
If it sounds like we are gloating, its because we are. The staff worked hard to put together an awesome week to explore a variety of media. Though the original plan was to work on computers, something wonderful happened, a mistake was made and we lost the classrooms we booked. Why is that wonderful??? Because it forced us to think outside the box and the result was an unforgettable week filled with new and exciting experiences, friendships and memories!
Day 1 – Making Board Games to Understand Environmental Story Telling
The first day we really spent a lot of our time getting to know each other. That is necessary to work well together, because who wants to work with strangers anyway? We also started making some board games after learning about all forms of media, themes, stories and narratives. Follow us if you are interested because next month we will be hosting a social night at Toronto’s Board Game Cafe, Snakes and Lattes!
Day 2 – Exploring Film and Tech with Google Cardboard Virtual Reality and Chappie at Rainbow Cinemas!
There is an awesome way to experience Virtual Reality on your mobile phone and its called Google Cardboard. Our game developer friends at Game Pill Inc. write more about how it works and what the toy company Mattel has planned for this technology, check out What is Google Cardboard?
If you’ve never been to Rainbow Cinemas, it was a treat. The murals on the wall, the art gallery in the lobby and the friendly staff made our trip to see Chappie more awesome than we imagined. This movie was gangster. No, really. Be warned that the 14A really means a ton of swearing, guns, and adult content. After seeing the movie we had an opportunity to reflect on what we learned about literary themes. Our reflection brought forward the themes of authority, weapons and political power, betrayal, family, religion and technology. Chappie is not just a movie about a robot with a conscience and artificial intelligence, but a reflection on many past and current events happening today. Thank goodness Every1Games is a place for mature teens and young adults – this is not for kids!
The awesomeness continues…
Day 3 – Experiencing Arts and Craft Galleries at the Harbourfront Center
Visual art, glass blowing and metalworks are just a few of the creative arts we explored at the Harbourfront Centre. We also learned next week Disabled Theatre is premiering in Canada! You can read more about it –> here!
Day 4 – Meeting Video Game Developers Get Set Games! Exploring Game Development!
Meeting with local successful teams in the game industry is one of the ways we create low-anxiety networking experiences. Industry Allies like Get Set Games support Every1Games and help bring opportunities to neurodivergent and autistic youth interested in a career in games! (Yes, that is the office dog [below]!).
The awesome team at Get Set Games took the time to answer all our questions about mobile game development and hung out with us playing games and talking industry. Truth be told everyone was more interested in taking turns playing Storm Casters and Mega Run than asking questions, but we certainly learned a lot about the video game industry. Did you know that this development team is made up of friends from George Brown College?
Check out Storm Casters and download it! You won’t regret this game in your library.
And if you are not sick of awesome yet…
Day 5 – Bell Media Building! Exploring Music, Entertainment News and much more
We had the amazing opportunity to have a tour around the Bell Media Building at 299 Queen St W that houses many different live and recorded shows. We had the opportunity to see the set of CP24, BNN, ETalk, The Marilyn Dennis Show and many more. This building makes it easy for celebrities to come to one building and have the opportunity to be on several different shows without leaving , especially if it’s cold outside like it was this winter. We even had a special tour of the control panel room that controls what is on the screens of CP24 at all times. It was an outstanding experience and a great way to wrap up our week!
Thank you to everyone who helped make this March Break amazing, the participants, staff, and our industry allies Get Set Games, George Brown College School of Design, and the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University!
Any ideas how to top this next year!?
Comics have been a great tool to deliver powerful messages and give a voice to someone who otherwise might not be heard. Every1games is offering a 5 week introductory workshop on comic book and graphic novel design, enhancing skill in art and storytelling. We will be taking a closer look at how comics are designed and what makes each one unique. We will also have the opportunity to take a look at how digital arts technology has influenced the comic book industry.