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Sesame Street Introduces Viewers to Julia's Family as Part of Its Autism Initiative

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Update: On July 25, Sesame Street Workshop announced a partnership with the Ad Council and Autism Speaks to encourage early autism screenings in two new video ads. The first ad shows Julia using a tablet to communicate with her dad and a second shows her using noise-reducing headphones to join in with her friends playing instruments. “Early screening made a lifetime of difference for Julia and her family, and we’re thrilled to share her story with families through this campaign,” said Sherrie Westin, President of Social Impact and Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop, according to Scary Mommy. “With the right support, every child can reach their full potential.”

Sesame Street is expanding the storyline of resident muppet Julia, who is on the autism spectrum, as part of Autism Acceptance Month this April. As part of the initiative, viewers will get to meet her family — including her parents, big brother and dog — for the first time.

In 2015, Sesame Workshop launched “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” an online initiative introducing Julia as a digital character in a storybook called “We’re Amazing, 1,2,3.” Sesame Workshop spent five years on the initiative, consulting with 250 organizations and experts within the autism community. Julia made her on-air debut in April 2017 and has since been a regular character on the show.

“We’re thrilled to expand Julia’s world with her parents, big brother, and her adorable dog, Rose, in our new resources,” Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, said. “Children with autism often face unique challenges, as do their parents and siblings. But every family faces challenges of some sort, which is why we are focusing on what all families have in common. In a family, everyone has different roles, challenges, and strengths, and everyone can learn from one another.”

Through Julia, kids learn that while some kids with autism may be able to speak, verbal communication can be challenging, resulting in single words and sometimes, when overwhelmed, the use of a communication board. The show has highlighted other characteristics of autism, such as stimming, and how to respect the boundaries of someone who prefers minimal physical touch. The new videos and materials are available in English and Spanish.

“The response to Julia and our ‘See Amazing in All Children’ initiative has been nothing short of amazing,” Westin said. “Our goal is to increase understanding, to increase awareness, to increase empathy. And by helping others understand, and by helping autistic children feel less alone, Julia is changing the world.”

On April 8, HBO and PBS KIDS will premiere a Julia-focused Sesame Street episode. Julia’s friends, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and Alan play “hair salon” with Julia to help her better cope with an upcoming haircut. According to Sesame Street, this segment was created as a response to families who asked for resources addressing common challenges for children on the autism spectrum.

In addition to introducing new resources and characters to further develop narratives surrounding autism, Sesame Workshop is expanding its autism initiative by partnering with Barnes & Noble.

On April 6, the bookstore chain will hold a sensory-friendly reading of the “Family Forever” storybook and accompanying activities in over 600 locations. The 2018 digital storybook will be released as a hardcover edition by Random House.

Sesame Workshop will also participate in the World Autism Awareness Day Symposium in Japan by joining the Tokyo Tower lighting ceremony.

Image credit: Richard Termine/Sesame Workshop

Originally published: April 1, 2019
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