April is Autism Awareness Month, and Delta Health Alliance doing its part to bring that awareness to the Mississippi Delta.
Carolyn Willis, DHA’s vice president of Education Programs, said they were contacted last year by Sesame Workshop about partnering with Sesame Street In Communities (SSIC) to bring more health resources to the Delta, including Autism Acceptance.
Having already partnered with Universal Parenting Place, Willis said, “both groups have an interest of seeing more resources provided to children, especially young children who are suffering with mental health or disorders.”
With SSIC, Willis said they completed a series of visits in Indianola, Hollandale, Arcola and Leland. After those visits, Willis said SSIC is working with DHA over the next three years to make sure awareness is brought to mental health disorders with Sesame Street at the forefront.
“Sometimes when we have children, as well as adults, who are suffering from traumatic experiences or adverse childhood experiences, those are things they don’t want to talk about. The premise behind Sesame Street in Communities is to use the Sesame Street brand as kind of an entryway to having these tough conversations.”
Having the partnership with Sesame Street in Communities and using the Sesame Street brand, Willis said, makes conversations about mental health disorders less intimidating for parents, especially when relaying the information through a character such as Julia.
Julia is a 4-year-old Sesame Street character with Autism who was introduced to the show in 2015.
The SSIC website states: “All children experience the world differently, and those differences are even greater for children with Autism. As a parent or caregiver of a child with Autism (or as someone who knows a person with autism), your understanding and support can help ease daily challenges…while celebrating the uniqueness of all children.”
The SSIC website also offers videos, games and articles, such as “Teaching Kids about Autism,” “What to Say to a Parent of a Child with Autism,” “Involving and Appreciating Siblings,” and much more.
“We can really start the conversation in a non-threatening way when we’re using the Sesame Street platform,” Willis said. “We want to bring awareness to not just Autism, but also family stressors. We need to have conversations as a community about where we need to go next and also to put strategies into place to make sure our families are whole.”
One simple way of bringing about awareness, Willis said, is by decorating all their doors with Autism Awareness colors, which is a rainbow of puzzle pieces.
“People will ask, ‘Well why do you have the ribbon up here?’ and that’s when we can really start to talk about Autism,” she said.
It is important to not only get parents talking about Autism, Willis said, but to get an early start.
Most children, especially in the Delta, don’t get early screeners for Autism, which is something Willis said they want to see change.
On staff at Leland Medical Clinic, she said, is a disabilities coordinator who can, before and after a diagnosis, provide resources to the family on getting the next level of care for Autism and making sure the child and the family is receiving the resources they need.
“This is really a holistic way of approaching Autism and making sure the families have all the resources they need,” Willis said, noting Leland Medical Clinic uses licensed counselors for their services.
For more information on how Sesame Street is getting involved with Autism awareness, visit sesamestreet.org/autism and sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/autism/.
For more information or to set up an appointment with Leland Medical Clinic, call 662-686-4121.