With Sesame Street’s Help, Ad Council Urges Autism Screenings for Kids

PSA videos were created by BBDO New York and Dieste

julia autistic character sesame street big bird
Julia, a character with autism introduced in 2017, stars in the new awareness campaign.
Courtesy of HBO

As another school year inches closer, an Ad Council campaign is encouraging parents to have their children screened for autism.

The bilingual campaign features Julia, a muppet with autism that Sesame Street added to its cast in 2017. Through a tie-up with Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy nonprofit, and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit production company behind Sesame Street, the Ad Council is running two ads that show Julia using tools that help her better communicate with friends and family. For example, in one of the spots, she uses a tablet computer to tell her dad that she wants to play catch with her dog, showing how children on the autism spectrum may have delayed speech.

Another shows Julia putting on noise-reducing headphones—autistic children tend to be sensitive to light and loud sounds—so she can play instruments with her friends. The videos were created by BBDO New York and Hispanic creative agency Dieste.

The aim of the campaign is to promote early screening and diagnosis of autism. A recent survey conducted by the Ad Council and Autism Speaks found that 66% of parents of children ages 6 and under say their child has not been screened for autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be screened for autism spectrum disorder at 18 and 24 months.

“Receiving an autism diagnosis is just the first step in creating a better future for a child on the spectrum, and there are multiple benefits to getting that early diagnosis,” said Angela Geiger, Autism Speaks president and CEO, in a statement. “Research shows that early intervention can have a positive impact in so many ways, and we are dedicated to helping parents learn the signs and feel empowered to help their children lead their best lives.”

The videos, which are airing nationwide on TV and digitally, are part of Sesame Street’s autism initiative, “See Amazing in All Children,” which aims to increase understanding and acceptance of the disorder.

The Ad Council and BBDO New York have worked with Autism Speaks on awareness campaigns since 2005, the year the advocacy organization was founded.

In 2015, the agency created a 3D and stop-motion animation campaign inspired by real stories of children with autism and told from their perspective. Eight years ago, the agency made an interactive installation that focused on one of the key signs of autism: lack of eye contact. Passersby who attempted to meet the gaze of the young girl in the digital installation found that she would avoid any glances.

Prior to that, BBDO New York created PSA videos featuring celebrities, including Tommy Hilfiger and Toni Braxton, who have children with autism.

Recommended videos