Sesame Street Introduces Viewers to Julia’s Family as Part of Its Autism Initiative

In 2015, Sesame Workshop launched “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” an online initiative introducing Julia as a digital character in a storybook called “We’re Amazing, 1,2,3.” Sesame Workshop spent five years on the initiative, consulting with 250 organizations and experts within the autism community. Julia made her on-air debut in April 2017 and has since been a regular character on the show.

“We’re thrilled to expand Julia’s world with her parents, big brother, and her adorable dog, Rose, in our new resources,” Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, said. “Children with autism often face unique challenges, as do their parents and siblings. But every family faces challenges of some sort, which is why we are focusing on what all families have in common. In a family, everyone has different roles, challenges, and strengths, and everyone can learn from one another.”

Through Julia, kids learn that while some kids with autism may be able to speak, verbal communication can be challenging, resulting in single words and sometimes, when overwhelmed, the use of a communication board. The show has highlighted other characteristics of autism, such as stimming, and how to respect the boundaries of someone who prefers minimal physical touch. The new videos and materials are available in English and Spanish.

“The response to Julia and our ‘See Amazing in All Children’ initiative has been nothing short of amazing,” Westin said. “Our goal is to increase understanding, to increase awareness, to increase empathy. And by helping others understand, and by helping autistic children feel less alone, Julia is changing the world.”

On April 8, HBO and PBS KIDS will premiere a Julia-focused Sesame Street episode. Julia’s friends, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and Alan play “hair salon” with Julia to help her better cope with an upcoming haircut. According to Sesame Street, this segment was created as a response to families who asked for resources addressing common challenges for children on the autism spectrum.

In addition to introducing new resources and characters to further develop narratives surrounding autism, Sesame Workshop is expanding its autism initiative by partnering with Barnes & Noble.

On April 6, the bookstore chain will hold a sensory-friendly reading of the “Family Forever” storybook and accompanying activities in over 600 locations. The 2018 digital storybook will be released as a hardcover edition by Random House.

Sesame Workshop will also participate in the World Autism Awareness Day Symposium in Japan by joining the Tokyo Tower lighting ceremony.

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Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network this weekend as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.
Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.
Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the “book week gift” or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.
But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.
“It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,” author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book.
“We are talking about everything, including their journey. A traveller just said he was on his way to Velp, my birthplace. Often there are also children and I naturally hope that they start reading. That’s what we do it for.”
Murat Isik, who wrote the annual bookweek essay, a companion to the novel, added: “How incredibly beautiful and dynamic to meet readers on the train. Unfortunately, this is also the end of Book Week. A week full of wonderful meetings and conversations.”
This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.
The state rail company, which has now been offering the annual free travel promotion for 18 years, said in a statement: “NS has a warm heart for reading, because reading is one of the favourite ways to spend time on the train.”
“That is why we have been the main sponsor of a number of reading campaigns for years, including Book Week.
“On Sunday 31 March, the Netherlands travelled en masse for free by train on presentation of the Book Week Gift, written by Jan Siebelink.”
NS is not the only railway company to accept physical objects in lieu of payment. This time last week for a week UK rail company Virgin Trains offered a 1/3 discount to passengers aged 18-30 who presented an avocado to ticket inspectors, as a dry joke about the delayed Millennial Railcard.

Matt Haig: teach children about mental health as readily as road safety

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Teaching children about wellbeing is as important as road safety, best-selling author Matt Haig has said as he calls for mental health to be added to the school curriculum.
However, Haig, who is known for his children’s books which unpick mental health issues for young readers, warned against so-called ‘helicopter parents’ “editing” their sons and daughters’ lives.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, the 43-year-old who has written about his own severe depression, warned parents and schools they must “get ahead of the game”.
“It’s just as important as road safety,” he told The Telegraph, “I think we need to get ahead of the game on this, it’s evolving so fast and it feels like everyone’s so behind in terms of technology and health.
“It should be ingrained at some point in the curriculum.”
His call comes after this newspaper revealed a potential shake up of Ofsted’s school inspections to include an assessment on mental health and wellbeing.
An NHS report last week found that more than one in ten boys at primary school are being labelled as suffering from a mental disorder.
Researchers found that boys aged between five and ten were twice as likely as girls the same age to suffer such problems.
The study also suggested that children from middle income families have twice as many mental disorders as those from poorer backgrounds, something that Haig links to an overload of technology devices, parental pressure and increased emotional awareness.
In his book, Notes of a Nervous Planet, Haig gives tips on coping with the “switched on” aspect of the modern world.
He said: “Kids now have got more in their lives, they never have to be bored in this world of constant distraction. No adult would let their kids smoke 60 cigarettes on an evening but because that’s physical health it’s so clear cut, with mental health it’s still a bit abstract for some people.
“Boys are also dealing with the pressures that were traditionally the girls’ pressures. They’ve got the looks pressure, there’s apps out there now aimed at men and boys aimed at giving your photos a six pack.
“We’re at a stage where we communicate more and more by our looks, especially young people on Instagram and Snapchat.”
Haig, who lives in Brighton, started writing children’s books aimed at unpicking mental health following the success of his memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive which reflects on his severe depression between the ages of 24 and 32.
In it, he links the malaise of modern society to the prevalence of mental illness, something he explored more deeply in Notes on a Nervous Planet, which gives tips on coping with the “switched on” aspect of the modern world, and has recently come out in paperback.
Haig decided to home-school his children, Lucas, 11 and Pearl, nine, when they didn’t seem happy going into class everyday.
But his latest children’s book, out in August, follows the adventures of his well-known character, the Truth Pixie, as she embarks on the opposite – her life at school, where it is “hard to be true”.
It follows the success of The Truth Pixie, a bestseller that has sold 65,000 copies since its 2017 release. Haig has been nominated three times for the Carnegie Medal.
“We’re in this age now where we are expected to be these magazine versions of ourselves and present an image to the world, and kids feel that even more than we do.
“The immediate appeal of the Truth Pixie is that she literally can’t lie and she tells the truth about everything. It’s about the pressure to fit in and be popular, it’s not just about school.”
Haig, who has always been open about his mental illness with his two children and regularly brings them to his talks, still worries about getting their education right.
“They’ve seen all kinds of stuff, and often young people will be drawn to the more sensationalist stuff as well – there’s an infinite amount of anything out there,” he added.
“I worry about my children as they get older, I worry about access in terms of porn, all kinds of things that are out there.”
But he does not think parents should monitor everything their children do.
Haig said he believes children need to learn to ‘“clear up” their own messes.
When you’re with your kids all the time and editing everything they do and making decisions for them all the time, that’s not healthy either,” he added.
“That’s my beef with other parents sometimes, when the whole world just becomes about that one child and it’s not about other children generally, it’s just about them.”
Matt Haig’s ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ is out now in paperback.

Rolling out mental health trials in schools

Anna Moore and Dr Daniel Hayes, researchers at the Evidence Based Practice Unit (UCL and Anna Freud Centre), discuss their leading research into mental health and wellbeing in schools.

As recently announced by the education secretary Damian Hinds, thousands of children and young people are taking part in our randomised control trials evaluating different mental health and wellbeing interventions in schools. The latest NHS digital prevalence survey suggested that emotional difficulties in young people are on the rise, and one in eight five- to 19-year-olds have at least one mental health difficulty. These figures highlight the need for action – the Department for Education is funding us to deliver the Education for Wellbeing programme, one of the largest studies in the world of its kind.

The Anna Freud Centre is committed to building the evidence base for mental health in schools, and the Education for Wellbeing programme forms part of the centre’s extensive work with schools across England. It provides resources and support for pupils, teachers and parents, and through its research contributes to evidence-based practice, informing policy at a local and governmental level.

Led by the Evidence Based Practice Unit (EBPU) (UCL and Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families), over 370 schools and around 30,000 pupils across England will take part in the drive to produce robust evidence about what works best for pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

The Education for Wellbeing programme consists of two separate trials: AWARE and INSPIRE. Both explore the impact of different mental health and wellbeing approaches in school, in recognition of the significant time children spend at school and the important role that school staff can play in recognising changes in pupils’ behaviour or mood.

AWARE (150 secondary schools) aims to implement and evaluate two interventions with Year 9 pupils. Both interventions focus on improving pupil’s knowledge and awareness around mental health, reducing stigma, and encouraging help-seeking.

  • Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) is delivered in schools by external mental health professionals. It is a structured programme of five sessions involving group discussions and role plays.
  • The guide aims to increase mental health literacy in pupils and staff and consists of six sessions delivered by trained teachers.

INSPIRE (160 primary and 70 secondary schools) investigates three interventions aimed at improving pupils’ wellbeing. Schools are working with Years 4, 5, 7 and 8 to evaluate approaches delivered by trained school staff:

  • Mindfulness is delivered for five minutes each day and consists of mindful breathing exercises and other activities focused on self-awareness of sensations, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Relaxation is also delivered to classes for five minutes every day and involves deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Strategies for Safety and Wellbeing draws on emerging practice in some UK schools around teaching practical approaches to personal safety (protective behaviours). It consists of eight 45-minute sessions in which pupils explore the themes of risk, noticing early warning signs, and recognising the importance of support networks.

The evaluation team at EBPU are using survey data, focus groups, and interviews to examine the impact and experiences of these interventions on pupils and staff when compared to usual practice. This research has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools, giving teachers and other school staff the confidence to promote pupil wellbeing and support the children and young people they work with.

We are delighted to have received great feedback from schools involved. One young person said: “…if it was to be all around the country, it will help other schools as well. It will raise awareness about what’s going on and I think it will help… It will make the country a better place I think, to be very honest.

A class teacher said: “I feel empowered by it, you know? I feel like these subjects are not talked about enough.”

BBC in the News

Northern Ireland’s hospital emergency departments deal with, on average, 28 cases of self harm daily, figures show.
More than 50,000 cases have been dealt with in the past five years.
One trust area dealt with 15 incidents involving children under the age of 10. Annually, about 1,000 child cases are seen by emergency departments.
Dr Denise O’Hagan, of the Public Health Agency, said self-harm should always be taken seriously due to patients’ severe emotional distress.
“Self-harm is when a person harms themselves through injury or poisoning and it can take many different forms,” she said.
“It may be something which is kept hidden from others.
“For some people, self-harm is a way of coping with and communicating their distress, but for others it can be associated with a wish to end their lives.”
Self-harm can include everything from punching or hitting, to cutting or burning.
The figures were released in response to a Freedom of Information request from BBC News NI to all five health trusts, and four of them covered the financial years from 2013 to 2018.
The Northern Trust provided data from September 2013 to August 2018.
The number of teenage girls self-harming in Northern Ireland jumped by 66% in five years, in keeping with trends in the rest of the UK which show that instances among young women almost doubled during the past two decades.
Where were the most incidents?
 With almost 15,000 cases, the South-Eastern Trust had the highest number of self-harm reports.
 At just over 5,000, the Northern Trust area had the lowest number of cases.
 Girls aged 18 and under are almost twice as likely to self-harm as boys.
 The Northern Trust dealt with 15 incidents involving under-10s, while there were 12 cases of people over 80.
 In the Belfast and Western areas, there were larger numbers of women self-harming – the opposite was true within the Northern and South-Eastern trusts.
 The Southern Health Trust did not provide a gender breakdown of the figures.
One patient, who wishes to be known as Sandra, told BBC News NI she began hurting herself at secondary school a decade ago as a “coping mechanism” following childhood sexual abuse.
“Initially my mum had supported me to contact the GP; I attended the GP who then referred me on to a mental health team,” she said.
“I have been to so many counsellors in the past, I never felt like I was able to speak with them like I can now with my counsellor. In the past I felt like I was being judged.
“At the start, I dreaded every session as I knew that I would have to talk about things that were difficult, but now I don’t think about it, I see it as a positive session.”
But the government collapsed in early 2017, with no subsequent opportunity for MLAs to debate the issue.
The Department of Health said that when someone who has self-harmed attends an emergency department, he or she will be assessed by the mental health team and provided with the appropriate service either in the trust or through the community and voluntary sector.
There is a specialised programme that aims to provide an early intervention service for people who self-harm with a view to preventing serious physical harm and suicide attempts.
But not all those who self-harm present to EDs. Some will go to their GP, some to community and voluntary sector groups, and others do not seek medical help.
There were more than 700 referrals last year to the charity, Zest NI, which operates self-harm counselling services at clinics in five locations across the Western Trust area.
However, Conor McCafferty, the co-director of the charity, said last year it saw 125 people who came in off the street and had not been to an emergency department.
“Although the statistics are frightening, the important thing is that the services are there to support this population but we can’t make the person come to us,” he said.
Mr McCafferty said that there was an increased number of men coming forward for help, but noted that the instances of self-harming among young women remains “very high”.
The Department of Health said it had been working towards an evaluation of the Bamford report regarding mental health provision in Northern Ireland, but the government had collapsed before it could get ministerial approval. It said it was developing a five-year plan for mental health in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, it said, the Public Health Agency continues to invest more than £8m a year to deliver suicide prevention and emotional health and wellbeing services.
Original blog:

Harmless drop in dates

Our sessions are friendly and welcoming. We create a relaxed atmosphere with approachable staff who provide important information explaining how our service can support you, your friends and family or a colleague. We can offer information or advice about any concerns you may have around self harm.
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Silent disco for Hertfordshire dementia care home residents ?? – what a wonderful idea?

A silent disco for residents at a dementia care home in Hertfordshire has been greeted with a “fantastic” response.
People living at Margaret House, Barley, took part in the trial session – believed by organisers to be the first time the audio experience has been used as a stimulus for UK dementia patients.
Leanne Smith, activities coordinator at the residency, got the idea from a care home in Australia.
Watching people engage and enjoy themselves at the event just made her “well up”, she said.