“Sesame Street” is welcoming a new resident — a muppet named Julia who has autism. The character debuted online as part of a new autism education initiative.
Care providers say given the program’s popularity, the new character could be a game changer.
“It’s important for all of us to understand people with autism,” said Dr. Wendy Ross, a pediatrician who runs programs trying to make everyday experiences easier for families living with autism.
“The more informed people are, the more sensitive they’ll be toward the needs of those who have autism,” she added.
Beth Aylmer says she cried tears of joy when she first heard about Julia. The Franklinville, New Jersey, teacher has three daughters who have severe autism. Aylmer, whose girls are 10, 8 and 6 years old, said she hopes the new character will create more understanding around this issue.
“One of the challenges of having kids with autism is that they don’t look differently initially, so a lot of times snap judgments are made about our kids before people take the time to get to know or recognize their needs,” she said.
The character and additional online materials also teach kids how to interact with peers who may be nonverbal, she said.
Julia could also help kids who have autism in more subtle ways, said Amy Kelly, director of family supports and services for Devereux Pennsylvania.
“There’s going to be a lot of self-acceptance for those individuals and kids who understand that they have autism, and might be a little bit different,” Kelly said.
Kelly, who has a daughter with autism who is a big “Sesame Street” fan, said she believes her daughter will get a major kick out of Elmo talking about this disorder.
Parents of kids with autism also say they hope the muppet will help cut down on bullying.