Folks on Sesame Street have a way of making everyone feel accepted.
That certainly goes for Julia, a Muppet youngster with blazing red hair, bright green eyes – and autism. Rather than being treated like an outsider, which too often is the plight of kids on the spectrum, Julia is one of the gang.
Look: On this friendliest of streets (actually Studio J at New York’s Kaufman Astoria Studios, where “Sesame Street” lives) Julia is about to play a game with Oscar, Abby and Grover. In this scene being taped for airing next season, these Muppet chums have been challenged to spot objects shaped like squares or circles or triangles.
“You’re lucky,” says Abby to Grover. “You have Julia on your team, and she is really good at finding shapes!”
With that, they skedaddle, an exit that calls for the six Muppeteers squatted out of sight below them to scramble accordingly. Joining her pals, Julia (performed by Stacey Gordon) takes off hunting.
For more than a year, Julia has existed in print and digital illustrations as the centerpiece of a multifaceted initiative by Sesame Workshop called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.”
She has been the subject of a storybook released along with videos, e-books, an app and website. The goal is to promote a better understanding of what the Autism Speaks advocacy group describes as “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.”
But now Julia has been brought to life in fine Muppet fettle. She makes her TV debut on “Sesame Street” in the “Meet Julia” episode airing April 10 on both PBS and HBO. Additional videos featuring Julia will be available online.
Developing Julia and all the other components of this campaign has required years of consultation with organizations, experts and families within the autism community, according to Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice-president of U.S. Social Impact.
“In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” she says. “We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We’re modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share.”
Julia is at the heart of this effort. But while she represents the full range of children on the spectrum, she isn’t meant to typify each one of them: “Just as we look at all children as being unique, we should do the same thing when we’re looking at children with autism,” Betancourt says.
It was with keen interest that Stacey Gordon first learned of Julia more than a year ago. “I said, ‘If she’s ever a puppet, I want to BE Julia!’”
No wonder. Gordon is a Phoenix-based puppeteer who performs, conducts classes and workshops, and creates whimsical puppets for sale to the public.
She also has a son with autism, and, before she started her family, was a therapist to youngsters on the spectrum.
Although she figured her chances of landing the dream role of Julia were nil, her contacts in the puppet world paid off: Two friends who worked as Muppeteers on “Sesame Street” dropped her name to the producers. After submitting tapes, then coming to New York for an audition, she was hired.
In the introductory segment, Julia is having fun with Abby and Elmo when Big Bird walks up. He wants to be her new friend, but she doesn’t speak to him. He thinks she doesn’t like him.
“She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way,” Abby informs him.
Julia, chuckling, then displays a different-but-fun way of playing tag, and everyone joins in. But when a siren wails, she covers her ears and looks stricken.
“She needs to take a break,” Big Bird’s human friend Alan calmly explains. Soon, all is well and play resumes.
“The ‘Meet Julia’ episode is something that I wish my son’s friends had been able to see when they were small,” says Gordon. “I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.”
Gordon says her son, now 13, isn’t drawn to puppetry. “He’s more interested in math and science, and plays the piano brilliantly,” she says with pride.
But she’s having a blast being part of the show that helped hook her, as a child, on puppeteering.
“It is so much fun to be on set with everyone, and get to play up all the positive things I’ve seen with the kids that I’ve worked with,” Gordon says. “At the same time, I come at this with a reverence. I don’t want to let the autism community down.”
Many parents of kids with late birthdays consider redshirting Kindergarten—and now, the nation’s largest school board is saying that they just may be right to do so. The concept of redshirting is this: if your child has a late-month birthday, they may be better off starting school an entire year late, thus making them one of the oldest kids in the class, versus the youngest, and therefore more ready to enter Kindergarten. (The term “redshirting” is borrowed from U.S. college sports, for a student-athlete who foregoes her first year on the field or court in lieu of an extra season of eligibility later on, when she’s older and stronger and more skilled.)
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has just released new data showing the distinct advantages of redshirting kindergarten for kids with birthdays in the last three months of the year, noting that these children experience troubles with the emotional strength and maturity necessary for success at school at more than twice the rate of kids born in the first three months of the year. The data also show lopsided numbers on elements such as language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, and physical health and well being—with early-month children always performing much better than their younger peers.
Dr. Charles Ungerleider adds that the TDSB findings are consistent with other studies. “The literature seems to suggest that it’s advantageous to hold your child back from entering school if they would be young in relation to their peers—and that’s particularly true for boys,” says the professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former B.C. deputy minister of education. “I’d certainly advise parents to pay attention to the body of evidence.”
The TDSB data show that the gap remains relatively wide into Grade 3 and persists into Grade 6. In the United States, as many as nine percent of parents now redshirt their children, and in Alberta, where schedules and curriculum are more flexible, some school boards have begun pushing back overall enrolment age in order to respond to the trend.
For their part, the TDSB is reminding principals to tell parents whose kids have late birthdays that they’re free to enroll later—while Kindergarten is voluntary, Ontario’s Education Act states that if a child’s birthday falls after the first day of the school year, he can begin Grade 1 the following year.
Other studies have been far less conclusive on the long-term benefits of redshirting—and the TDSB’s own data show that the gap vanishes by high school. There are plenty of other factors for parents to weigh as well:
Too far ahead
And, while it may seem counterintuitive, some have suggested that older kids may actually be bored in a class of younger peers, and fail to develop proper study skills. In addition, many Canadian provinces employ a play-based approach to Kindergarten—making it easier for young ones to catch up.
Friends and social life
Dr. Ungerleider also encourages parents to consider the social impacts of holding their kids back. “Friendship patterns are important,” he says, noting that disrupting these (if a child has playmates before school but won’t be entering the class at the same time as them) can have a negative impact on them socially as well as academically, especially if they get the idea that they’re somehow lacking in areas that their friends are not. “That’s not a message you want to send.”
With daycare costs for preschoolers an average of $1,033 a month, many parents are willing to roll the dice that their younger kindergartener will keep up with peers in order to avoid paying for yet another year of full-time childcare.
Does your dog have the ability to deceive you to get what it wants? According to a study published in Animal Cognition, it does.
The Swiss study was conducted on a number of dogs of different breeds.
The animals were introduced to two women. One was cooperative; the other, competitive.
During the test, researchers placed three boxes before the dogs — one with food they liked, one with food they disliked and one empty.
On the first day, when the dogs led the women to the preferred food box, the cooperative woman gave the dog the food, while the competitive woman kept it for herself.
On the second day, researchers found the dogs would often lead the competitive woman to the empty box and the cooperative woman to the food.
The author of the study went on to suggest dogs are able to “adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.”
Owner and head trainer Caryn Liles at the Toronto Centre for Canine Education said such behaviour is natural for canines, but she doesn’t think they have the ability to be deceptive.
“I think the wording was interesting,” she said. “Dogs have the intelligence level of a two- to three-year-old child.
“They lack things like spite and guilt and they don’t have a moral compass, which we often mistake … So, it’s not that they are lying because they don’t have that moral compass, but they operate on their environment in order to achieve whatever goal they have.”
Bars across the city will be hopping with St. Patrick’s Day revelers on Friday, some as early as 11 a.m.
But, before you share that drink with a friend, Toronto Public Health wants to remind the public that the mumps virus is still kicking around town.
The outbreak started last month after 14 cases were confirmed involving people between the ages of 18 and 35 who had visited bars in the western part of the downtown core.
Health officials would not release the list of the bars, saying it wasn’t the bars themselves that was the issue, it was the behaviour of the patrons in the bars.
The mumps virus is found in saliva and sweat and is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and coming into contact with a person’s saliva by sharing drinks or utensils or by kissing.
Since the initial discovery, the number of cases has climbed to 43, four of them in schools.
Toronto Public Health is asking the public to take the following precautions:
1) Check vaccination records for you and your child
Two doses of mumps vaccine (MMR, MMRV) are recommended for all individuals born in 1970 or later. Children receive one dose after the first birthday (MMR) and a second dose at 4 to 6 years of age as part of Ontario’s Publicly Funded Immunization Schedule; check your child’s yellow immunization card. Individuals born between 1970 and 1992 may have received only one dose as a child. If an adult is unsure about their vaccinations or has only received one dose of mumps-containing vaccine, a booster dose is recommended.
2) Watch for symptoms of mumps
The mumps infection causes fever, swelling of one or more salivary glands, loss of appetite, tiredness, and headache. If you or your child have symptoms of the mumps and are ill, please contact your health care provider and do not attend work or school.
3) Planning to travel
Ensure that your immunizations are up-to-date for you and all your family members before travelling.
The White House on Thursday stood by President Donald Trump’s unproven accusations that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper, despite growing bipartisan agreement that there’s no evidence to back up the claim and mounting pressure to retract the statement.
Angrily defending the president’s statement, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Trump “stands by” the four tweets that sparked a firestorm that has threatened Trump’s credibility with lawmakers. Spicer denounced reporters for taking the president’s words too literally and suggested lawmakers were basing their assessments on incomplete information.
Spicer’s comments were a rebuttal to the top two members of the Senate intelligence committee, who released a statement earlier Thursday declaring there is no indication that Trump Tower was “the subject of surveillance” by the U.S. government before or after the 2016 election. Spicer suggested the statement from Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., was made without a full review of the evidence or, incorrectly, a briefing from the Justice Department.
“They are not findings,” he said.
House intel leaders see no evidence supporting Trump’s wiretap claim
Conway suggests surveillance of Trump went beyond phones
Obama denies unfounded Trump claim president had phones wiretapped
The standoff between the White House and lawmakers came four days before FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify before Congress, when he will inevitably be asked whether the president’s accusations are accurate. The White House’s refusal to back down raised the stakes for Comey’s appearance before the intelligence committee on Monday.
Trump tweeted earlier this month that President Barack Obama “was tapping my phones in October” and compared the incident to “Nixon/Watergate” and “McCarthyism.”
Trump, in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, said he’d learned about the alleged wiretapping from news reports referencing intercepted communications, despite the fact that he and his advisers have publicly denounced stories about government agencies reviewing contacts between Trump associates and Russians.
Trump said there would be “some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
In the two weeks since the tweets, the White House has tried to soften the statement, but not disavowed it.
Spicer on Thursday asserted that Trump meant to broadly refer to “surveillance,” rather than a phone wiretap.
“The president’s already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping,” he said.
In an attempt to bolster his case, the spokesman spent nearly 10 minutes angrily reading from news reports which he said pointed to possible evidence of surveillance. The list included a report from The New York Times, which Trump has dubbed “fake news,” as well as conservative commentary, a little-known blog and several reports based on anonymous sources, which Trump has said cannot be believed.
Among the items he quoted from was a transcript of a recent appearance by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano on the network, in which Napolitano suggested GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, had helped with the alleged tapping. Obama, he claimed, “went outside the chain of command” so there were “no American fingerprints on this.”
The agency, which rarely comments on allegations about intelligence matters, flatly denied the claim, responding with a statement calling the allegations “nonsense.”
“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” read the statement, which was issued on condition that it be attributed to an anonymous spokesperson to protect the identity of agency staff.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the senators’ statements Thursday.
Burr and Warner were among eight senior congressional leaders briefed by Comey on March 10. A Senate aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the senators’ private briefings, said Spicer was incorrect in claiming Burr and Warner had not been briefed on the matter.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Burr and Warner said in a one-sentence joint statement Thursday afternoon.
The phrasing of the statement left open the possibility that tenants or employees working in the tower may have been monitored. In response to Trump’s claims and a request from the House intelligence committee, the Justice Department is doing its own review of whether Trump or any of his associates were the subject of surveillance. The department is slated to provide a response to the committee by Monday.
Burr and Warner are leading one of three congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether Trump associates were in contact with the Kremlin.
The senators joined a growing, bipartisan group of lawmakers who have publicly disputed Trump’s accusation in the lead up to Comey’s testimony.
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin pushed back on the accusations as well.
“We’ve cleared that up,” Ryan said, adding that he’d received a briefing and seen no evidence of Trump’s wiretap claims.
But the issue is unlikely to pass as quickly as some Republicans hope.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that he still believes the FBI or Justice Department should comment publicly in “a simple statement that goes to the heart of the matter – without jeopardizing classified information.”
“I believe such a statement would serve the public well, and I fear that without an official answer this issue will continue to linger,” Graham said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had not given Trump any reason to believe he was wiretapped by Obama. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he had seen no information to support the claim and then went further. He suggested the U.S. president’s assertion should not be taken at face value.
“Are you going to take the tweets literally?” Nunes said. “If so, clearly the president was wrong.”
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
An Ontario student has been fined $25,000 for accessing personal health information, which provincial officials say is the highest penalty of its kind ever in Canada.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office says the masters of social work student was on an educational placement with a family health team in Central Huron when she accessed the information without authorization.
A statement says the student, who was not named, pleaded guilty to accessing the personal health information of five individuals contrary to the Personal Health Information Protection Act.
As part of her plea she acknowledged she accessed the personal health information of 139 individuals between September 9, 2014 and March 5, 2015.
The commissioner’s office says it was told the person was illegally accessing the records of family, friends, local politicians, staff of the clinic and other individuals in the community.
The statement calls $20,000 fine and $5,000 victim surcharge handed to the student the highest fine to date for a health privacy breach in Canada and Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish hopes it sends a message.
“Health care professionals need to know that this kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable and has serious consequences,” Beamish said in a statement. “Patient privacy is vital if Ontarians are to have confidence in their health care system.”
A Canadian man of Kazakh origins has been arrested in Ontario as one of four suspects in a massive hack of Yahoo emails, Toronto police said Wednesday.
Karim Baratov, 22, was taken into custody in Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday at the request of American authorities, a police spokesman said.
“Our job was to locate and arrest one of the people,” Mark Pugash told The Canadian Press. “We did that safely without incident.”
In a release, the U.S. Department of Justice said a grand jury in California has indicted Baratov and three others, two of them allegedly officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, for computer hacking, economic espionage and other criminal offences.
According to the department, the four are alleged to have hacked into Yahoo’s systems and stolen information from more than 500 million user accounts.
“(They) then used some of that stolen information to obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, U.S. and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies,” the department alleged.
“One of the defendants also exploited his access to Yahoo’s network for his personal financial gain, by searching user communications for credit-card and gift-card account numbers.”
Officials alleged the conspiracy began in January 2014.
Toronto officers were involved because its fugitive squad has a strong reputation, Pugash said. He could offer no further information about Baratov but said the suspect had been turned over to the RCMP.
“This was a very large operation,” Pugash said. “Our job was that final part of it, which was to locate and arrest him.”
Mountie spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said the RCMP assisted the FBI in its investigation.
U.S. officials said Baratov also went by the names Kay, Karim Taloverov and Karim Akehmet Tokbergenov.
Also indicted in the alleged conspiracy were Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43, and Alexsey Alexseyevich (Magg) Belan, 29, all Russian nationals and residents. Dokuchaev and Sushchin are said to be Russian intelligence agents who allegedly masterminded and directed the hacking, the department said.
The charges against the four were announced by top American justice and security officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey.
“Cyber-crime poses a significant threat to our nation’s security and prosperity, and this is one of the largest data breaches in history,” Sessions said in a statement.
Belan, who had previously been indicted in 2012 and 2013, was named one of FBI’s most wanted cyber-criminals in November 2013 but escaped to Russia before he could be extradited from Europe, the department said.
Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., Yahoo was already facing a proposed $50-million class action on behalf of Canadians whose personal information may have been stolen. The company informed the representative plaintiff, Natalia Karasik, of Barrie, late last year that her information was part of a hack of its servers in 2013.
In September, Yahoo sent a mass email to users to inform them that their account information had been stolen from its network in a cyberattack in late 2014. The information included email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, passwords and security questions. The company said at least 500 million user accounts were affected.
Yahoo also faces class actions in the United States.
Correction: A previous Canadian Press story said Karim Baratov was arrested in Ancaster. He was taken into custody in Hamilton.
Police say a former City of Toronto employee lost her home and life savings after falling victim to a sophisticated online scam.
In a release, police said the woman first lost $40,000 through a romance scam after she was duped into believing she was in a long-term relationship with a person who convinced her to “assist … with a series of falsified financial issues.”
Things would get progressively worse.
The suspects were then able to convince the woman to sell her condominium and hand the proceeds over in hopes of gaining “compensation” of $22 million, issued by the Nigerian courts.
Police said those behind the scam went to considerable lengths to sway the victim, including using the identities of real people employed by the FBI and United Nations and sending her fake news releases.
She was ultimately defrauded of an additional $400,000.
No arrests have been made and police are reminding the public to be vigilant.