Arthur, based on the book series by Marc Brown is the second-longest currently-running show on PBS, after Sesame Street. It follows the daily life of Arthur Read, and aardvark living in the fictional Elwood City, and all his friends, including a moose named George. What I think is great about the show is that it has an autistic rabbit named Carl. Carl was introduced in the episode “When Carl Met George” (aka “The Missing Puzzle Piece”). He went on to appear in four episodes, not counting cameos. He was voiced by Dwayne Hill in his first appearance, but beginning in season 14, Dylan Hoener became his voice actor.
His debut episode is told from George’s point of view. At the beginning of the episode, we are introduced to Carl. George tells us Carl is honest and knowledgeable of various topics, and hard to stop when he gets talking about them. (showing off the “little professor” trait aspies are often characterized with) We learn that two of his interests are trains and puzzles. The rest of the episode is told in flashback and recounts how they became friends.
The flashback starts with George meeting Carl assembling a puzzle in a classroom (George’s dad is a teacher at the school). After this initial meeting, he wants to get to know him better and decides to bring along his ventriloquist’s puppet to show him something he is interested in. The puppet scares Carl, and he starts having a panic attack, dropping a puzzle piece in the process. Carl’s mother explains that he has Asperger’s Syndrome and George apologizes for accidentally scaring him. He then goes to the smartest kid in the town, known as The Brain. This is the best part of the episode. The Brain shows him what it’s like to be an aspie. George imagines himself arriving on a planet with strange people who all talk through bullhorns (an excellent way of illustrating sensory overload). He is unable to interact with everyone because he is bewildered by their culture and does not have the book that was supposed to tell him about their culture. To compensate, he focuses himself on one particular aspect of the planet and interacts with the people based on his knowledge of that aspect.
After this, George decides to try again, this time leaving his puppet at home so as not to scare Carl again, and brings the puzzle piece he dropped. This causes them to become friends. In other episodes, we learn of Carl’s other interests, including rockets. I like this because many aspies, like myself, actually have several interests, some of which we’ve even outgrown.
I think a show like Arthur can be a good starting point for showing children how to deal with disabled peers. George himself has dyslexia. After all, acceptance of others’ differences should be started as young as possible. I believe children are much easier to teach than adults, who often think they’ve learned all they need to know.