Why it’s important that Julia, a Muppet with autism, has a family

Social Impact; Sesame Street Production (Photo Courtesy/Sesame Workshop)

Social Impact; Sesame Street Production (Photo Courtesy/Sesame Workshop)

Like many moms of a kid with autism, I was so excited in 2015 when Sesame Workshop added a wonderful new Muppet character: Julia, a 4-year-old girl, with autism who loves art, playing with her friends Abby and Elmo and sometimes struggles with sensory overwhelm and communication challenges.

There’s a terrific episode called “Meet Julia” showing the Muppets on Sesame Street engaging with Julia—for Elmo, it’s natural and easy; for Big Bird, some of Julia’s behaviors are initially confusing. Alan (who is human, not a Muppet) does an amazing job of helping Big Bird to understand about Julia’s autism and soon he’s able to interact with her, too. I’ve used this video clip in trainings about understanding autism with teens and adults—like so many Sesame workshop videos, it sets just the right tone of explaining autism without being didactic or overly clinical. These Muppets make it real—and relatable!

My family is like so many families today (the latest CDC data states that 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism in the United States) raising a child with autism—celebrating our son while often struggling to not feel isolated in a society that can still be judgmental and not understanding of his behaviors and communication.

Which is why I’m thrilled that this year for Autism Awareness Month, Sesame Workshop has released a new Sesame Street episode—with accompanying resources—showing Julia with her family. We meet her mom, dad, brother and her companion dog. By showing Julia with her family, Sesame Street is allowing the siblings of kids with autism—who are so often overlooked—to see a family like theirs mirrored on TV. In a wonderful online book, we read about Julia and her family doing ordinary things that all families do—in this case, going on a picnic together.

I wish that Julia and her family had been around when my teenage children were voracious Sesame Street watchers—but I am so grateful that families raising young kids with autism have the benefit of growing up with Julia and her family.

If autism doesn’t personally touch your family, make time to watch an episode with Julia and talk about it with your kids. There are tons of resources on the Sesame website to help you talk about anything you’re uncertain or uncomfortable with.

And even more important—use your understanding of autism to help you engage with families raising kids with autism in your neighborhood, school community, and house of worship. Help your child—in the way that Alan helps Big Bird—learn to interact with kids with autism that they may not initially understand.

What is your community doing for Autism Awareness Month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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