This is a rant post about how tiny-minded and offensive people can be when someone does something that contrasts with their (needlessly irrational) worldview. If that’s not up your alley today, I’m going to advise you skip it. I just needed to get this off my chest. Otherwise, read on.
Last week I was thrilled to learn that popular children’s show franchise Sesame Street has introduced its first autism spectrum character, named Julia. Here’s a little from the website, Sesame Street and Autism:
But inside Hooper’s store, Julia seems scared. She claps her hands over her ears.
“What’s the matter?” Asks Abby.
“Julia has really good ears,” explains Elmo. “Sometimes she hears noises that Elmo doesn’t notice. Like the noise the blender makes. She really doesn’t like it!”
“Don’t worry guys, I’ll turn the blender off,” says Alan. Then Julia takes her hands off her ears.
There’s a picture book that follows Julia, Elmo, and Abby around, showing how they can all have fun together. There’s a moment where Abby thinks Julia doesn’t like her because she doesn’t respond to a hello, but Elmo explains that it’s because she’s on the swings and “it’s just hard for her to talk when she’s swinging.” Julia “flaps” when she’s happy, knows all the words when she sings, and enjoys chocolate milk with her friends. Julia acts the way she acts, and her friends understand that. It’s about as damn-near perfect as you can get, teaching kids acceptance and understanding.
As the author of the book, Leslie Kimmelman, writes: “There’s greater awareness, and there has been much progress understanding autism. But it’s still a puzzle, and every child is affected differently. You’ve probably heard the saying “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what’s the most important thing for people to know? We’re all different in some way or another—that’s what makes the world an interesting place.” And that viewpoint really shows up in the way it’s being handled openly and without fear. I literally cannot express how pleased I am by this development.
Which is why I the people I’m about to talk about make me, as the Norwegians say, helt Texas.
Raw Story is reporting that the announcement of Julia is being met by anti-vaxxers with nothing short of horror and anger.
That’s right. They think that Julia is part of a “big pharma” conspiracy to “normalize” autism. Mike Adams, owner of, as Wikipedia describes it, “Natural News, a site promoting alternative medicine and conspiracy theories,” and all-around terrible human being, had this to say:
“The rollout of autistic Julia is Sesame Street’s attempt to ‘normalize’ vaccine injuries and depict those victimized by vaccines as happy, ‘amazing’ children rather than admitting the truth that vaccines cause autism in some children and we should therefore make vaccines safer and less frequent to save those children from a lifetime of neurological damage.” [emphasis mine] He further described Julia’s introduction as “yet another sickening example of the absolute mental derangement of modern society.”
I’m linking to the Raw Story because I don’t want to drive even a single visitor to Adams’s sites.
So first, and it’s 2015 and who ever thought we’d still have to tell people this crap OVER and OVER, but:
VACCINES DO NOT IN ANY SENSE OF THE TERM OR IN ANY IMAGINABLE OR CONCEIVABLE WAY CAUSE AUTISM.
AND EVEN IF THEY DID your disgust at Sesame Street trying to convince society to treat people with autism with dignity and respect (how dare they!) ranks you among THE VERY WORST PEOPLE I’VE EVER ENCOUNTERED, ONLINE OR OFF.
I really don’t know what I hate the most about anti-vaxxers: the compete and utter denial of all reason and sense, or the fact that they use people with autism as a scaremongering example of why their baseless fantasy of terror should be listened to.
People with autism exist, and we did before vaccine schedules and we certainly did before Andrew Wakefield falsified his evidence which for some reason you people still cite. We are not terrifying. We are not the worst thing that could ever happen to your children. We are not boogeymen or closet monsters to be used to scare neurotypical people out of acting rationally or using common sense. We are people. By some counts we are one in every sixty-eight people on the planet.
If you want to tell people that vaccines are dangerous, feel free to do so. You’ll be wrong, but you’re free to.
But, and I just cannot say this any louder or any more forcefully than this: Leave us the hell out of your twisted fantasies. Every time you use the specter of autism as a scare tactic to frighten the world into following you off of Darwin’s cliff, you make life harder for people with autism. Every time you repeat the lie that autism is caused by vaccines you take away from people with autism’s status as *people* and replace it with an objectification of autism as a *negative consequence.* We, our families, and our friends — we all deserve better than to be treated like a plague by you and your tinfoil-hat-wearing, paranoid, delusional friends.
Please leave us alone.
So to the good, good folks at Sesame Street, to Leslie Kimmelman, to Marybeth Nelson, to everyone trying to make the world a better place for people on the autism spectrum: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
And to you, Mike Adams, and your hateful anti-vaccine cronies — and I mean this: screw you.
Richard Ford Burley is a writer and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and techno-futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.