The number of children diagnosed with autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 in 2010, to 1 in 54 in 2020.
April is National Autism Acceptance month. The goal is to build a more inclusive environment for those on the spectrum.
The popular kids show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood tells us how the autistic community is represented through a beloved character name Max.
The show focuses on teaching kids ages 2-4 years old social and emotional lessons.
“We offer social and emotional strategies in every episode, which are little repeatable songs that have to do with everything like going potty to dealing with mad feelings," said Chris Loggins, the supervising producer for the show.
In April of 2021, the character Max who is autistic was introduced.
“We created a character that represents the autism community, but we knew we wanted to do that with great care and authenticity," Loggins said.
Dr. Wesley Dotson, an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri, worked on the episodes featuring Max and tells us kids with autism and other disabilities want to have the same kinds of friendships and relationships as everybody else.
"And so any media, any cartoon, television show, or book or story, can help be one of those tools to help kids learn appropriate social skills and how to be apart of the community," Dotson said.
Victoria Vidal dedicates her time to raising her 15-year-old son Ahmari Jones, who is on the Spectrum.
She said shows like this are a great tool to teach kids how to interact with kids who have autism.
To see the welcoming of the children, how they educate the kids, how the teacher gets everyone involved, I feel is even needed in the school today," said Vidal.
“I think it is amazing to see that kind of stuff because on television there was not a whole lot of that representation," Ahmari Jones, a freshman at Roy Miller High School said. "So, to see that on modern television, I guess it really means a lot to me.”
So what is it about kid shows like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood that relates to their audience and helps them learn social and emotional skills?
"It’s that ability to visualize and see," Dotson said.
“A lot of kid shows in my youth have taught me acceptance. Because there is not a one person who is the same. We are all different," Jones said.
“It’s not just what you do with mom and dad. You can do this with your friends, you can do this at your school, out in the community, and that helps people see and kids see, 'oh these skills, have a bigger impact, they work,'" Dotson said.
Ahmari is selling shirts this month and a portion of the proceeds are going to be used to purchase sensory supplies that he’s donating to Center of Autism and Related Disorders.
Send donations to Victoria Vidao through her Cashapp at $viccvidal or PayPal at email@example.com