Friday, October 05, 2007

Elmo Volunteers to Explain War Injuries to Children


NEW YORK - It’s not your typical Sesame Street episode. There are no lessons in letters or numbers, but there are plenty of hugs and lots of talk about feelings.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces the hit kids’ show, is working on a DVD that will be distributed to military families. It’s designed to help injured veterans talk about their disabilities with their children.


More than a million children have parents who are in the military and have been deployed in the last six years. And roughly 18,000 military personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan have been wounded or injured seriously enough to be evacuated.

In the new production, Rosita, a fluffy blue mop-headed muppet, is upset because her father has returned home in a wheelchair. Rosita angrily refers to the wheelchair as “that thing” and reminisces about the days when she could dance to salsa music and kick a ball with her dad.

With encouragement from Elmo, Rosita musters the nerve to talk with her parents about how she is feeling.

“Sometimes I feel a little sad, because things are so different now,” Rosita says during a family outing to the park. “I wish your legs were OK, Papi, and I wish you didn’t have to go to the doctor so much. And I just wish things could go back to the way they were!”

Rosita’s father tells her that although he may have changed, his love for her hasn’t. And he persuades her to hop on the back of his wheelchair so the two can try a new kind of dancing.


Knell said Sesame Street is trying to model behavior and provide the vocabulary for parents who need extra help. “In many cases, Mommy and Daddy or caregivers may not have the tools necessary to deal with these very tough-to-teach issues,” Knell said.

Psychiatry professor Stephen Cozza of Uniformed Services University, which trains military doctors, said a parent’s injury or emotional problem is often “a big white elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about.”


While the program doesn’t directly address emotional disorders faced by an estimated 20 percent of returning veterans, the DVD can help frame family conversations around that too, Cozza said.

Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said Sesame Street is doing something that isn’t easy for the military to tackle alone.

“There is no more credible voice for 3- to 5-year-olds than the voices of Elmo ... and parents trust him too,” Arsht said.

Army Maj. David Rozelle agreed. An amputee who spends time counseling others, Rozelle was injured in Iraq before becoming a parent to two young children.

“These little people our kids trust so much can explain limb loss and help kids cope,” he said. “We don’t do it very well ourselves.”

The statistics on deaths and injuries obviously only deal with the very tip of the iceberg. The costs of the war are nearly incalculable.