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SmartHealthToday: Sesame Street introduces new character to promote autism awareness

By Shelly Reese

Sesame Street, famous for inclusion, acceptance and “sunny days,” is introducing a new character in an effort to promote greater understanding of autism.

Julia, a green-eyed girl with pumpkin-orange hair, will make her Sesame Street debut in April during National Autism Awareness Month.

Julia is a key part of Sesame Street’s initiative to raise understanding about autism. Although autism is extremely common — one in 68 children in the United States is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – many people don’t understand the condition and that can make life difficult for kids with autism.

Research shows children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Children on the spectrum are particularly vulnerable due to differences in communication skills, motor skills and social awareness, according to the National Autism Association. A proactive effort to create environments of respect and tolerance is required to prevent bullying and help schools and communities embrace autistic children.

Enter Sesame Street, a bastion of tolerance and understanding for nearly 50 years. Julia was created as part of Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, a nationwide initiative to help families manage common challenges, simplify everyday activities and nurture connections. Response was so popular Julia was turned into a physical Muppet who will make her Sesame Street debut on April 10.

As the creators of Sesame Street note on the website, “while it’s true there can be significant differences between people with autism and their peers, all children want the same things: to feel safe, happy and loved. And all children have something to contribute — unique perspectives and talents that help make the world a richer and more interesting place.”

Introducing an autistic character to Sesame Street is an important step toward promoting understanding and inclusion, experts say.

“For the past 48 years, Sesame Street has been a mainstay of childhood education and entertainment,” says Dr. Philip Hartman, a family physician in St. Elizabeth Physicians’ Union US 42 Primary Care office. “The diversity of Muppets and people shown in Sesame Street, as well as the way the characters interact with one another and get along, can teach children valuable lessons about finding the similarities through the differences. I am hopeful that this autistic character might do the same to help young and moldable minds understand that different shouldn’t be left separate.”

Image courtesy of CNN
SmartHealthToday is a service of St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

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