Children's television staple, "#Sesame Street," is introducing #Julia, a new, four-year-old #Muppet with autism in two new episodes this year, with more appearances scheduled for next. NPR reports that Julia first appeared in "Sesame Street" books and digital media, that the arc of her character has been in development for "about three years," and that 14 autism advocacy groups, including the Autism Society of America, were consulted about the details of little girl's personality.
"The character Julia, she has wonderful drawing skills. She's like a little budding artist," Rose Jochum, with the autism society, was quoted. "You know -- autism -- it brings wonderful gifts." However, while some people with autism appear to have special skills, not all do. The Huffington Post has noted that misunderstanding has led to some gifted children being diagnosed with autism, as well as a belief that "one cannot both be gifted yet struggling in school."
No consensus on autism treatment, policy
NPR states that the different groups consulted by "Sesame Street" "differ on how the disorder should be treated or addressed in public policy." Georgetown University researchers followed 1,000 families with autistic children, their use of "Sesame Street" media incorporating Julia, and found that that it appears to help with making children "more comfortable" being incorporated into the "broader community." The researchers also noted that the material made children without autism "more accepting" of those who do.
Vice president with Sesame Workshop, responsible for the production of "Sesame Street," Sherrie Westin, recounted the story of a mother who used materials featuring Julia to help explain to her five-year-old daughter that she is autistic. After seeing Julia on the show, the little girl was said to state to her mother, "So I'm amazing too, right?"
One in 68 U.S. children diagnosed with autism
Previous to 2013, autism spectrum disorders were broken into separate classifications, such as autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder -- not otherwise specified. Those diagnosed with the conditions experience a wide range of symptoms, with some of the most severe including incapacitating involuntary physical movements, and the inability to speak. One out of 68 children is said to be diagnosed with ASD in the United States.
NBC reports that Julia will be introduced to "Sesame Street" viewers with HBO and PBS on April 10.