For years, Sesame Street has educated children not only about academics, but also important life lessons. This week was no exception when they unveiled their newest character: Julia.
In a statement to ABC News, the Sesame Street Workshop described Julia as a "preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends, the lovable Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Grover.”
Julia joins her pals in a series of online storybooks, videos and interactive games— all part of Sesame Street’s campaign called Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, an initiative to fight the stigma surrounding the disorder.
“Children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied,” Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., senior vice president of social impact for Sesame Street, explained to People. “And with one in 68 children having autism, that’s a lot of bullying. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports diagnoses have been on a steady rise over the past decade, which may be due to better reporting. Yet, according to the Sesame Street website: "While the diagnosis is common, public understanding of autism is not."
That’s where characters like Julia have a lot to teach both children and parents.
For example, in one of the online story books, Elmo says to his friend Abby: “Elmo's daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism. So she does things a little differently." While maintaining a tone of acceptance and compassion, Elmo explains that at times he talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times.
“This is what makes our project so unique," Betancourt told People. “When we explain from a child’s point of view that there are certain behaviors, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children to understand how to interact with their autistic peers. It makes children more comfortable and therefore more inclusive.”
But Sesame Street’s initiative isn’t limited to awareness-raising stories. They also offer a free app with routine cards to make day-to-day life easier for families with autistic children along with resources for care providers and helpful organizations they can turn to. Plus, the educational efforts of the campaign may even help parents realize their child is living with autism, and consequently take steps to help improve his or her quality of life.
To top it off, the campaign created a video called “The Amazing Song” which features Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and a group of autistic children. This heartwarming campaign gives hope that future generations of children will respect rather than bring down each other for their differences.
“We are trying to spread the story about the theory behind this whole thing: love and acceptance,” Betancourt explained. “Everyone is touched by autism, and by creating Julia, Sesame is bringing children together.”