UPDATE : 2023.12.3 Sun 23:48
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Byeol-i: South Korea's First Autistic Child Character
  • By Jo Ah-bin, cub-reporter
  • 승인 2023.09.04 00:10
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▲ Byeol-i who first appeared at Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten is focusing on a pinwheel (Source: Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten YouTube)

Korean public education broadcaster 'EBS' has introduced a new character called "Byeol- i" with autism for the first time in Korea. People can meet “Byeol- i” in “Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten,” a program for infants and children. This is the first time that a character on the autism spectrum appeared in a children's program in the country. A specific character with an autistic disorder has already appeared in overseas infant and children's programs. In 2017, "Julia" appeared on the popular children's program "Sesame Street" on American public broadcasting station PBS. "Sesame Street" introduced Julia by explaining, "how to play with Julia," at the children's level, which improved the understanding of, "children on the autism spectrum," in American society.
Byeol- i shows stereotyped behavior such as waving her body or arms, sensitivity to noise, and a strong fondness for car toys, which are common characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder. In addition, Byeol- i shows a strong liking for toy vehicles by guessing difficult names and becomes sensitive when she encounters stimuli from noise and light, such as car horns. On the 18th, Byeol- i first appeared in the episode, "Hello, Byeol- a." Friends of "Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten" met Byeol- i, and the children's teacher 'Ding Dong Sam' explained the characteristics of Byeol at the eye level of infants and children. The teacher then said, "If you know and understand Byeol- i's thoughts, we are all ready to be friends," conveying the value and importance of, "integrated education."
The production team of “Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten” revealed that they have been pondering over the birth of "Byeol- i," who has autism spectrum disorder. In order to characterize autism spectrum disorder, it is necessary to pay attention not only to visual elements, but also to thoughts, behaviors, and verbal elements. In regards to this, the production team said that they took counsel from experts and actively referred to related books, interviews with families of autistic children, education of autistic children, and their daily videos. Autism spectrum disorder also has a wide range of characteristics, for instance, sensory sensitivity, difficulty or shortness in duration of eye contact, and delayed language development. After carefully examining these features, the production crew created the character "Byeol- i" as an infant who is general in character but has been consistently receiving special education.
The study and practice of the hand puppet performer and the voice actor in charge who will play "Byeol- i," was also essential. In order to properly use the movements and voices of "Byeol- i," they had to show the characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder. For example, common understanding of symptomatic behaviors, calling response, and visual seeking in a matter of fact way. In particular, since misinformation and prejudice may arise in the process of depicting "Byeol- i" realistically, can lead to exclusion towards children with disabilities, the producers said, "It was of the utmost importance to make infants and children understand the characteristics of children with "developmental disabilities" by depicting them accurately and without distortion." The production team then added, "The intentional point of Ding Dong Daeng Kindergarten is clear. No child should be subject to discrimination and exclusion, and in order to convey the values of "understanding" and "respect," they must know and understand the circumstances of others." On the one hand, the author and editor of the fairy tale "Child in a Box," which was created from the perspective of artists with "developmental disabilities," collaborated to produce the music video and theme song of "Byeol- i".
The producers concluded by saying, "The children with developmental disabilities are also members of our society, and we sincerely hope that this challenge will serve as a foundation for finding answers to the question, 'What is the need of our society right now?' in order to live in harmony with them.” Just as the American autistic child character "Julia" was greatly welcomed, we hope that the appearance of "Byeol- i" in Korea will contribute to the public's awareness of the value of “respect” and “variety.”

By Jo Ah-bin, cub-reporter  opal_40@naver.com

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