PHOENIX - Sesame Street is arguably one of the most influential children’s shows of all time. Characters like Big Bird and Elmo teach kids everything from the ABCs to good manners. Now the show is introducing a new Muppet character who has autism.
Her name is Julia and she has the Phoenix autism community excited.
“The biggest children's show in the world is now going to have a character with autism on it. What a great way to build a more inclusive, supportive community,” said Daniel Openden, president and CEO of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC).
Openden says Julia has been around about a year but only in animated short stories. Now she's joining the show as a Muppet, and the move could do more beyond helping just kids with autism.
“If I have autism, I'm now going to have the opportunity to now enter the rest of my community with the rest of that community having increased awareness about autism itself,” said Openden.
Julia will be played by Phoenix's own puppeteer Stacey Gordon, whose son is also on the autism spectrum.
“A parent who's personally affected by autism contributing towards those story lines, and being someone that is operating the Muppet probably bringing out stories coming right out her own living room, I think is really helpful in getting an accurate representation of autism,” said Opended. “With that said. I still think it’s going to be challenging because that one mom’s experience is just one experience with a child. It’s important to recognize that the autism spectrum is huge. The individual differences between all of them is pretty vast.”
Openden says 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism -- and in Arizona that figure is in 66.
The hope is Sesame Street’s new character, Julia, will now help shed a little light on those kids and adults on the spectrum.