In an attempt to spread awareness about children with autism, Sesame Street And Autism: See Amazing In All Children will add a new character: Julia will star alongside Elmo, who helps explain her condition to other characters (and therefore to all the children watching at home). Though I'm not entirely sold on Elmo's medical education, I still think it's a pretty awesome idea.
The thing is, this isn't the first time Sesame Street has utilized characters with disorders. Those have been around since day one; they just never pointed them out. Understand that when I talk about the following characters, I'm in no way making fun of their disabilities. Far from it. I'm saying that if you grew up with Sesame Street, you learned about these things without even knowing it. For instance ...
5Cookie Monster Has Full-Blown Binge-Eating Disorder
Before you say, "Yeah, no shit," give me a second, because this is a whole lot darker than a goofy puppet going apeshit on a plate of cookies in order to make toddlers laugh. Cookie Monster has the most common eating disorder in the U.S. (more common than both anorexia and bulimia). Binge-eating disorder is characterized as a lack of self-control while eating more food, faster than normal, even when not feeling physically hungry, until uncomfortably satiated.
Cookie Monster easily ticks all those boxes. He eats way too much, way too fast, even though he never complains of being hungry beforehand -- he just needs to eat as many cookies as possible because "they are important" to him.
Binge-eating is usually done in secret, and that shows up quite a bit on Sesame Street, as the majority of Cookie Monster's freak-out scenes are done solo. Notice in the above video that he doesn't dive straight in until the other character leaves the room. That doesn't happen every time, but it happens enough to be considered a symptom.
It's not his fault. He's not just a greedy, gluttonous asshole who hogs all the food. There are many reasons why Cookie Monster might binge-eat: a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics, severe emotional or physical trauma. I could definitely see that last one happening after he ate Ernie's X and later had to pass Styrofoam through his poor monster butthole.
Unfortunately, Cookie Monster's condition is worsened by the way the other characters react to his behavior. They either try to take the cookies away from him, even though food restrictions actually promote binge-eating (found at 22:00 in the following video), or they give him cookies as a reward for completing a task successfully (12:00 in the same video):
It's essential that Cookie Monster learns the underlying emotional reasons why he turns to food for help, along with coping strategies to use when he becomes emotionally distressed. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, internal family systems, and trauma therapy have all shown promise in doing this. What does not help at all is people clearly enabling his behavior while he lets his disorder completely dictate and obliterate his emotions. Seriously, watch this video, and you will see Cookie Monster in a completely different light:
4The Count Has Severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
This is another one that seems obvious on the surface, but it's not just a cute little observation. "He counts things, so he's OCD. LOL!" No, The Count's affliction is so severe that he cannot function without outside help. Even a minor task like answering the telephone is so impossible for him, he has to hire Ernie to do it for him. Even then, he physically prevents Ernie from doing his job, because the impulse to count the rings is too much for him to overcome.
And speaking of jobs, his OCD prevents him from having one himself. When he got a job as an elevator operator, he flat-out refused to stop at any floor but the 10th, as he absolutely has to count all the way to 10 and back again. He's restricted to a shut-in life, locked away in his castle, away from the outside world. Look at his room in the telephone video above. See all those cobwebs and dust? That isn't there because they're trying to make the place look all spooky and vampirey. Those are there because The Count can't control his compulsions long enough to do basic cleaning.
"ONE! One devastating mental illness!"
This is a very common symptom of OCD. Now, I know that a lot of people think that ordering your pants by day of the week or having all your books on your shelf ordered alphabetically is "a bit OCD," but it's not. That's just a little weird. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a far more debilitating condition than many realize.
Let's start with the "obsessive" part. The obsession in question is repetitive, unwanted thoughts, such as fear of contamination, being harmed, or, as would be the case with The Count, unwanted acts of aggression. The Count is a goddamn vampire. He must fight a constant desire to tear Elmo's throat out and feed on his blood (don't we all?). By enduring these endless and unwelcome obsessions, the sufferer is forced onto the next stage: being compulsive.
The most common compulsions include excessive cleaning, checking, ordering and arranging rituals, repeating routine activities, and counting. The sad thing is, this compulsive, repetitive behavior is meant to alleviate any anxiety caused by those pesky obsessive thoughts, but, in many cases, only exacerbates it.
Warner Home Video
And that means the violent disembowelment of our red furry friend.
Another hallmark of OCD is that the person recognizes that their thoughts or behaviors are senseless or excessive. The Count fits the bill again. Listen to his warnings to Ernie in the telephone video. He knows that what he is doing is contrary to the way he is expected to behave. He even apologizes (or at least explains himself), but he continues to do it anyway. He needs genuine therapy. Or at least someone a lot bigger than Ernie who can physically tackle him and answer that goddamn phone.