Julia, a muppet with autism, makes her 'Sesame Street' debut

Welcome to Sesame Street, Julia!

In March, Sesame Street announced plans to bring Julia—a muppet character with autism who’s appeared in books, apps, and other supplemental material—onto its flagship show. And she finally made her official debut on the iconic block this week. In her first appearance, which you can watch above, Big Bird meets Julia for the first time and learns about the many things that make her special and unique. Vox’s Dylan Matthews, who is autistic himself, has a great piece explaining the many subtle but important choices Sesame Street made in how to introduce Julia. And he points out one or two areas in which the show could potentially improve its autistic representation in the future too.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Julia’s creation:

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Muppet with autism plays Boing Boing tag!

Julia is the new muppet with autism who's joined Sesame Street and she's off to an amazing start with this delightful game of "Boing Boing tag." We love you too, Julia! (Thanks,Sam Borgeson!) Read the rest

Julia, the muppet with autism, joins Sesame Street's TV show

Julia, the muppet with autism, will join the Sesame Street TV show in April. She appeared last night on 60 minutes during an interview segment with Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro. From NPR:

"The character Julia, she has wonderful drawing skills. She's like a little budding artist," said Rose Jochum, director of internal initiatives at the Autism Society of America, which characterizes itself as the nation's oldest advocacy group for people with the disorder. "You know — autism — it brings wonderful gifts..."

"It's not like there is a typical example of an autistic child, but we do believe that [with] Julia, we worked so carefully to make sure that she had certain characteristics that would allow children to identify with her," (Sesame Workshop executive vice president Sherrie) Westin said. "It's what Sesame does best, you know: Reaching children, looking at these things through their lens and building a greater sort of sense of commonality."

Here's the 60 Minutes segment script.

And more about puppet designer Rollie Krewson.

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Trump's five most "anti-science" moves

Scientific American summarized five of Donald Trump's "major moves many see as hostile toward science." They are:

• Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively battled its mission

"To lead the EPA, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has long opposed environmental regulations and has questioned the science behind climate change."

He chose former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary

"It is a science-heavy department, and one that (climate change skeptic) Perry—who is not a scientist—had advocated dismantling during his 2012 presidential bid."

He chose an energy company executive for secretary of State

"Trump tapped former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State."

• He met with a vaccine critic while planning a commission on autism

"(Robert Kennedy, Jr) has repeatedly promoted discredited arguments that link vaccines to autism."

His transition team sought information about Energy Department staff associated with climate change

"In December Trump’s team asked the DoE for the names of employees who have worked on issues related to climate change."

"Trump's 5 Most 'Anti-Science” Moves (Scientific American) Read the rest

Affordable fidget and stim toys

YouTuber Autistic Tic has a great series of videos on inexpensive toys for fidgeting and stimulation. Great for pets, kids, and fidgety adults! Read the rest

Mighty Jack: a new series from Ben "Zita the Spacegirl" Hatke

Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl trilogy was one of the best kids' comics of the new century (and it's headed to TV!), and he's been very productive in the years since, but his new series, Mighty Jack feels like the true successor to Zita: a meaty volume one that promises and delivers all the buckle you can shake a swash at, with more to come.

UK to extradite hacker with autism to US to face trial for breaking into state computers

Today a court in London okayed the extradition of a British hacker with autism to the United States, where he will face trial for breaking into high-security U.S. government computers.

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Antidepressant use by moms during pregnancy linked to increased autism risk

Researchers examining a possible link between antidepressants and autism found that women who took the psychiatric medications while pregnant were far more likely to have autistic kids.

Women in the study who took antidepressants during the last six months of pregnancy were 87% more likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism. Researchers say the link was most prevalent with women on the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are some of the more common SSRI drug brand names.

Does the new study prove antidepressants cause autism? No. Correlation is not causation, and science is complicated. But increasingly, autism research is focusing on factors that may contribute to the disorder before birth.

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Boy with autism saves choking classmate with cool trick he learned on SpongeBob SquarePants

The Staten Island Advance reports that Brandon Williams, 13, was eating his lunch at Barnes Intermediate School on Oct. 28 when he saw that his classmate Jessica Pellegrino was choking on a piece of apple.

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Donald Trump is an anti-vaccine autism truther who doesn't understand science

At last night's GOP Presidential Debate Theatrical Funtime Special on CNN, a brilliant moment of shining stupidity from the abundantly stupid Donald Trump.

He said:

“I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. … We’ve had so many instances — people that work for me, just the other day. Two years old, 2 ½ years old, a child, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Ladies and gentlemen, burn all of the things.

Politico's wrong-o-meter is a good roundup of all the crazy shit these megalomaniacal rich liars said on TV last night, and how wrongfully wrong all of it is.

Donald Trump stuck to a position that’s totally unsupported by medical evidence — that a link exists behind autism and vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical authorities have said repeatedly that science has demonstrated there is no link between vaccination and autism. Giving children multiple vaccinations at the same has also been proven to be safe, the CDC said.

Here's how we felt last night, watching the debate:

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Autism has always been with us

One in sixty-eight children are now on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We argue over whether this is a diagnostic or epidemic phenomena, but either way, neurodiversity has always been with us, shaping history. Read the rest

The UK's premier autistic rock group

The Guardian followed The Autistix as it rehearses and heads off on tour: "We don't want people to feel bad or sorry about us. We want them to come to our gig and enjoy the music. You can also headbang if you like." Read the rest

Genetic links between creativity, schizophrenia, and autism

How is creativity related to schizophrenia and autism? Psychology professor Scott Barry Kaufman looks at a scientific paper suggesting that "creativity and psychosis share genetic roots" in the context of his own research on how different forms of creativity might relate to the schizophrenia spectrum and the autism spectrum. Read the rest

Kickstarting a US show of pieces by Japanese weavers with autism

Gabrielle writes, "Saori weaving is the perfect craft for happy mutants. You can't make a mistake and all variation is considered part of the personal expression." Read the rest

How Disney movies gave an autistic boy his voice

In Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism , Pulitzer-winning writer Ron Suskind tells the incredible story of how his son Owen disappeared into "regressive autism" at the age of three, losing the ability to speak or understand speech and developmentally degenerating across a variety of metrics, only to reemerge a few years later, able to communicate through references and dialog from the Disney movies he obsessively watches.

A long excerpt in the New York Times, generously illustrated with Owen's expressive fan-art, hints at a book that is wrenching and inspirational by turns. It reminds me of 3500, Ron Miles's memoir of raising a son with autism who was able to engage with the world through thousands of re-rides of Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Suskind is a brilliant writer, and the excerpt is deeply moving. I've pre-ordered my copy. Read the rest

Scientists learn more about the fascinating connection between our brains and our bowels

Bacteroides fragilis — one of the many "friendly" bacteria that live in our gut — seems to be capable of altering the behavior of mice, according to a new study. In a mouse model for autism, exposure to Bacteroides fragilis improved the mice's gastrointestinal function and, along the way, reduced some of their external behavioral symptoms, including obsessive behaviors and anxiety. Read the rest

Leslie Lemke: blind, savant piano player on That's Incredible! (1981)

As regular BB readers know, the original That's Incredible! television show had a big impact on me, with its coverage of curiosities, strange phenomena, stunts, and amazing and unusual people. I distinctly remember being moved, even as a ten-year-old, by the episode featuring Leslie Lemke, a blind autistic savant with cerebral palsy who was a fantastic piano player at a young age. According to May Lemke, Leslie's adoptive mother, Leslie sang a lot as a child. Then, when he was 14, she heard piano music in the middle of the night. She thought they had left the TV on but it turned out that Leslie was playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto that he had heard in a TV movie that evening. Above is the 1981 segment I remembered from That's Incredible! Leslie was also seen in a 1983 episode of 60 Minutes on savant syndrome, and he still performs concerts around the country. "Leslie Lemke: An Inspirational Performance" (Wisconsin Medical Society) Read the rest

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