Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, has introduced Julia, a new muppet character with autism, as part of their “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” initiative.
The mission of the organization is to help children grow stronger, smarter, and kinder. Introducing Julia is meant to help reduce the stigma surrounding autism. It will also expose children to the idea that even though others may have autism and seem a little "different" from themselves, they are still beautiful, unique individuals who have more in common with them than they might think.
The initiative also aims to educate children and parents on how to have successful interactions with other children who have autism, thus creating healthy interactions and helping put an end to bullying. Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of community and family engagement at Sesame Workshop, shared with People magazine that "children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied."
Children and parents can read an interactive story online about a playdate that Julia, Elmo, and Abby Cadabby go on together. The authors of the story aimed to show the similarities between Elmo and Julia in the story, depicting scenes of them both doing the same activities, such as playing with blocks or swinging on swings.
The story, however, also does touch on certain mannerisms that may be present in children with autism. When Elmo's friend Abby Cadabby tries to ask Julia to play, she does not answer right away or look at her. Elmo then explains that he sometimes uses less words and has to wait a long time for her to respond.
He also mentions that it is difficult for Julia to talk and swing at the same time. "Elmo's daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism," Elmo explains to Abby Cadabby. This indicates the correct way for a parent to let a child know that another child may be a little different from themselves.
There is no need to talk rudely about another child who might have autism, or to make fun of them. Parents who talk about a child like this will more than likely affect the way their own child sees this person and may lead to bullying.
Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, had said, "I am passionate about this initiative, and am so proud of the partnerships with the autism community that have led to this."
The muppet for Julia was introduced when she sang the show's theme song. She'll appear on the show in coming weeks.