Sesame Street is adding a new character to its lineup with Julia, a muppet who has vibrant red hair and autism.
Julia is already a staple in Sesame Street digital and print books, and will appear in the 47th season of Sesame Street in April, the Associated Press reported.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street, announced in 2015 that Julia would join Elmo and the gang in books and an app as part of the "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children" campaign. Julia, who "does things a little differently," according to the workshop, is part of the campaign focused on reducing the stigma of autism.
And while the show may make it look like Julia’s character effortlessly came together, it took years of consulting with organizations and experts in the autism community to develop her character, and the campaign, Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact, told AP.
"In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder," Betancourt said in the interview. "We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We're modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share."
Scott Badesch, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America, was involved in the committee of people in the autism community who helped Sesame Workshop think through the concept. His son, who has autism, watched the show as a child. He graduated from college last year, and is working, Badesch said.
Badesch said that it was obvious the committee "really wanted to get it right – and they got it right," with Julia's character.
“When you can have a character that shows what autism is, it will help everyone who watches Sesame Street have a really good appreciation of what a is, in a positive way,” Badesch said.
He said that people often forget that autism is a spectrum.
“People are on various points of that spectrum," he said. "The common characteristic that people don’t understand is that behind that is a human being.”
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