MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new character on a popular children’s television show is helping kids with autism understand they aren’t alone.
Julia, a Muppet that has autism, is making her TV debut on “Sesame Street” next month.
For over a year, Julia has been featured in print and digital illustrations as the centerpiece of an initiative by a Sesame Workshop. The workshop is called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in all Children.”
“Julia is a little girl who is showing that she has some challenges initiating and making friends, which is very typical of kids with autism,” said Rachel Gardner, psychologist and director of the Autism Center of Excellence at Fraser.
But instead of being treated like an outsider, this red-haired, green-eyed Muppet is part of the group.
“I think it really shows that our community has embraced kids with differences,” Gardner said.
She says depicting Julia’s character on television helps kids without autism understand what it is.
“Maybe put a name to it or a word to it so they have some context to understand what it might mean, but that, again, they can be friends with anybody,” Gardner said.
And Julia’s puppeteer agrees.
“Our kids are important enough to be seen in society,” Stacey Gordon told “60 Minutes.”
Gordon has a son with autism, and was once a therapist to youngsters on the spectrum.
“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they’d seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they would’ve known he plays in a different way and that that’s OK,” Gordon said.
“Kids are resilient beings and they can look past differences,” Gardner said.
Show writers say Julia represents the full range of children on the spectrum. They say every child with autism is different, and Julia is just one illustration.
The “Meet Julia” episode of “Sesame Street” airs on April 10 on both PBS and HBO.