Inclusion Beyond Sesame Street : 7 Other Companies Making a Difference

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Budge Studios App With Sign-Language Video Photo: Budge Studios

By now you have probably heard that Sesame Street has introduced a character with Autism, an adorable orange-haired girl named Julia. Sesame Street decided to include Julia into the Sesame Street family in order to offer "families ways to overcome common challenges and simplify everyday activities."

Sesame Street is the most recent company to take steps to make things a little easier for children with special needs but there are many other companies who have also taken extraordinary steps to make life a little bit easier, a little more fun, for children with autism and other challenges.

Jacqueline Allen, Ed.D., Retired Special Education Director and Supporter of Inclusive Practices in Schools finds benefits for both children with disabilities and their typically developing peers when companies make an effort to be inclusive.

By authentically representing the special needs population in media and toys, the natural curiosity in young learners is sparked, and provides the opportunity for informative dialogue between parents and children. There is a huge benefit to the special needs child as well, as they are able to see themselves as a valued member of the community.

Melissa and Doug: Melissa and Doug has a comprehensive guide for children with special needs breaking down appropriate toys into categories including: sensory awareness; social and emotional; cognitive skills, and fine motor skills. For example, the Deluxe Puppet Theatre and puppets can help children with autism improve social and speech skills. Older children can use the Deluxe Magi Set to help with similar skills, as well as build confidence and work on the fine motor skills necessary to perform the tricks. For children who are reluctant to play, the Family Box of Questions can help develop conversational skills.

Hasbro: Last year, Hasbro introduced ToyBox Tools in conjunction with The Autism Project. The ToyBox provides resources with families and professionals help children with autism access classic toys like Mr. Potato Head and Elefun as well as games like Trouble and Chutes & Ladders. The ToyBox contains suggestions for three levels of play: 1) to introduce the toy and teach how to use it; 2) build experience with alternative ways to play; and 3) encourage social play with turn-taking and playing together.

Pediped Shoes: Children with special needs often require specialized clothing or shoes to function to the best of their ability. When Pediped was contacted by the mother of a child with special needs to make specialized soft-soled shoes for her daughter, Kenadi, the company stepped up and created the shoes the little girl needed. When Kenadi passed away at 5 ½ Pediped created the Kenadi Boot to honor her memory.

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Kendi Boots Photo: Jamie Davis Smith

Budge Studios: Michael Elman, Co-CEO and Founding Partner of Budge Studios recognized that Budge Stuidos' apps for kids rely not only on strong visual content, but on a lot of voiceover instruction and storytelling as well. After some research, Budge Studios realized that they could easily make their apps more accessible to kids and families in the Deaf community by adding sign language videos in the corner of the screen. Budge Studios did just that in the free Strawberry Shortcake Berryfest. Not only do sign-language videos benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing children, it's also very helpful for deaf and hard-of-hearing parents so that they can help and engage in the play experience with their children.

STRIDER Balance Bikes: Learning to ride a bike is a challenge for all children but can be even more challenging for children with special needs ranging from low muscle tone to cognitive impairments. The makers of STRIDER balance bikes wanted to find a help to help everyone ride and created larger versions of their popular balance bikes for use by anyone, regardless of age or size and these bikes have helped individuals with autism, down syndrome, and other disabilities ride and, most importantly, have fun. STRIDER even started a Rider Fund to help provide bikes to organizations that provide services to children with special needs and developed the STRIDER Camp Curriculum to help professionals teach individuals how to ride.

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Adaptive PE class using STRIDER Photo: STRIDER

American Girl: American Girl is known for their "Truly Me" collection that allows girls to choose a doll that looks just like them, down to curls and freckles. In an effort to enable all girls to have a doll that looks like them American Girl offers dolls without hair as well as mini hearing aids and wheelchairs.

AMC: Something as simple as a trip to the movies can be overwhelming for some children with sensory issues or autism. AMC theaters nationwide have made it easier to catch a flick with their Saturday morning and Tuesday evening sensory-friendly films where the lights are kept on and the volume is kept low.