As a life coach who is a passionate mental and developmental health advocate, I work hard to take the stigma out of having and living with mental health or developmental health concerns; so when I was first introduced to Julia, the newest character on Sesame Street, who has autism, and saw her portrayed in such a positive light, I was deeply moved and grateful.
I have always felt “different” all my life, and have learned some of the reasons why over the years; one being that I have always had high anxiety. Through talk therapy and anti-anxiety medicine that I have taken since I was diagnosed in 2001, as well as through coping mechanisms that help to lessen my anxiety, like planning ahead and using a paper planner every day to help me know what is on my schedule, I have learned to live and thrive, despite having anxiety. As well, in 2000, I discovered the book called, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You”, by Dr. Elaine Aron. She is a psychologist who coined the term highly sensitive person in 1996, and has devoted the past 22 years to the study of this trait. Through reading her book, I learned that I was highly sensitive, which helped me to explain the way I had felt all my life, far as being someone who felt things very deeply and processed things through very thoroughly.
Now, here at the end of 2018, through significant research, I have come to learn that along with having anxiety and being a highly sensitive person; I am also on the autism spectrum. Coming to this realization has been a relief to me, as it explains so well how I experience the world and the different things I did as a child and do as an adult that are different from those who are neurotypical. Simultaneously, it makes me wish I would have known this so long ago when I was growing up, but autism spectrum was not listed in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual used by psychologists to diagnose those with developmental and mental health concerns), until 1994, at which time, I had already moved out on my own and was in college.
Growing up, because I did not have any of these diagnoses, life could be very difficult to say the very least. Certainly those who are neurotypical have difficulty in life as well, but it seemed like I was experiencing major difficulties, and often, did not know why. I felt like I was trying as hard as I could to fit into society, go to school and work, but I so often felt like most others were having a much easier time than I was doing everyday things that make up life. So often I was told by well meaning parents and teachers that I just needed to apply myself or try harder. This confounded me because I was already trying extremely hard, but still having so much difficulty.
Though Julia was introduced on Sesame Street in 2017, I did not discover her until I learned about her just a couple weeks ago through one of my best friends. He told me about her and showed me a Julia doll he had, and said she was a Muppet on Sesame Street, with autism. I hugged the sweet Julia doll as soon as he showed her to me. She was just a beautiful. The same evening, I went home and looked up Julia to see if I could find a clip of her on Sesame Street. I found the clip of her arrival on Sesame Street in this link https://autism.sesamestreet.org/video/meet-julia and it was wonderful! I was so grateful to know she was created and is on one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, and portraying autism in a positive way. Seeing this clip helped to heal my childhood self in a very profound way. When I saw in the clip how Alan knew exactly how to help Julia when she was upset by the loud noise from the siren that passed by, and when Elmo and Abby Cadabby assured Big Bird that all was okay and that Julia would be back to play, and just needed to take breaks sometimes when she felt overwhelmed by sensory overload that often accompanies autism. In this 10 minute clip introducing Julia, it normalized autism as just simply another way of experiencing the world, instead of a disorder. It showed that other children, in this case, Elmo and Abby Cadabby, could understand that Julia just did some things differently perhaps than they did, but that it was perfectly okay. Alan understanding how to help Julia was also very touching to me, as when I was in distress from similar type events, such as loud noise, crowded spaces, etc;, most people did not know how to help me or what to do with me; and so I felt terribly misunderstood, like there was something wrong with me. One of my best friends shared with me that it’s like if all your life you’re trying to reach the jar on the top shelf, and everyone says you just need to try harder, and then someone finally says, “You’re certainly trying hard enough, but you’re short. Just use a ladder.” Hearing this, I felt so validated, and so relieved that there was indeed, nothing wrong with me. I was just simply not neurotypical, but was on the autism spectrum, and thus, just did things a little differently than others. This is what I want those who are on the spectrum, or feel different in some way to realize; that we can do everything; we just need to do things in a different way than our neurotypical counterparts! 🙂
As an aside, for the holidays, I received my very own Julia doll from my best friend! I love her so much and being introduced to her was one of the best presents I have ever received.
I so wish I had a Muppet like Julia when I was growing up, but I am just grateful she was created and is here now! I met a beautiful young woman recently of just 22 years of age, but clearly wise beyond her years who said, “My motto is: Be the person you needed when you were a child”. What a wonderful motto to live by! I am living this motto in the coaching work I do, and I invite you to adopt it as your motto as well!
Thank you Julia, for being who I needed as a child, and as an adult, and for helping me to realize that we are all different and special, and that we are all able to beneficially contribute to the world.
*Anne Sabagh is a Certified Life Coach based in Northern Virginia. She sees clients in person at Goose Creek Consulting in Centreville, VA, as well as conducting coaching sessions via phone or web from anywhere. Her personal website is http://freetobehsp.com.
She specializes in working with people dealing with mental and developmental health concerns in order to help them develop their greatest mental wellness possible. She is a highly sensitive person, an empath, and on the autism spectrum. As such, Anne brings a great deal of empathy to her work with clients. She loves animals, music, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Northern Virginia with her wonderful husband Tony, and their beloved cat, Robin.