For the first time in 10 years, a new special Muppet will appear as part of the regular gang on Sesame Street.
Her name is Julia and she is on the autism spectrum. That character is important to those close to this condition.
Five-year-old Elizabeth Gumpert explores her world through high energy play, and a lot of talking, but she didn’t speak clearly until she was three. Elizabeth and both of her brothers are on the autism spectrum.
"They're all totally different, they're not the same," explains their mother, Michelle Roberie.
Elizabeth is excited that Sesame Street will include Julia, a character who is also on the autism spectrum. In fact, she was at the rollout at the National Autism Conference in New Orleans. She believes it will help others be inclusive and accepting of children with different behaviors like her children.
"I was like, where was this when my kids were younger?” she said. “(Autism) won't be an odd thing. Everybody's just going to be able to understand what the differences are. You don't have to be afraid," Tulane autism expert Dr. Lisa Settles agrees.
"That is going to be very important for them to understand and accept children on the spectrum, and so when they encounter someone, they will know what they can say, how they can respond, and how they can interact with that individual," explained Tulane Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics Dr. Lisa Settles.
Dr. Settles said there are children on the spectrum who may not understand that Julia is also autistic, but some may be attracted to her similar behavior, such as arm flapping or repetition. She said with one in 68 children diagnosed with autism, there is awareness, but Julie could help move this to the next level.
"People are aware of autism and the next step is acceptance, and I think Julia's character will help with that acceptance piece, and I think it's going to help from the little child all the way up to the adult," said Dr. Settles.
When asked, Elizabeth said her favorite character on Sesame Street is Super Grover. Michelle now wonders if he will have to move over for Julia as her daughter's new favorite.
The character, 4-year-old Julia, makes her television debut Monday, April 10 on Sesame Street .
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