Sesame Street wants kids who have autism to feel not just included but celebrated for who they are. So the program recently introduced Julia, the show's first character with autism as part of a nationwide initiative to reduce any stigma associated with the condition.
Julia is part of the "Sesame Street and Autism: See the Amazing in All Children" campaign that includes a digital storybook, story cards, and real stories about kids with autism.
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"Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences," said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Street's senior vice president of U.S. social impact. "Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group."
To accomplish this, the storybook, called "We're Amazing, 1,2,3!" starts off by talking about all of the different things that Elmo, and his new pal Julia have in common — things like building towers with blocks, playing with cars, and playing games on the tablet. Julia's autism is introduced as Elmo explains to his other friend Abby Cadabby why Julia sometimes does thing differently than they do.
"Elmo's daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism," he says. "So she does things a little differently. Sometimes Elmo talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times."
The book goes on to explain why Julia sometimes flaps her arms in the air when she is excited or shies away from loud noises. The idea is to help kids with autism feel loved and accepted and to help kids who don't have autism understand their peers. The latest statistics show that one in 68 kids are diagnosed with autism, so it's likely that most kids have come across at least one child with autism at school, or church or maybe even at home.
The mission of "We're Amazing" and the other resources on the Sesame Street and Autism website is to celebrate all kids and what makes them unique. "Everyone is touched by autism, and by creating Julia, Sesame is bringing children together," said Bentacourt.