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Why Sesame Street's Julia Is a Step In the Right Direction

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Yesterday morning I woke up to news about Julia — the new autistic character on “Sesame Street” — and I lapped up all the news about it, excited like a child in a candy store.

My son has no interest in the show. I’ve tried, but he walks away. Still, this news makes me happy and hopeful.

The show is an American icon. Even after half a century, it continues to be relevant. Many children grow up watching “Sesame Street,” and its characters might feel like friends. So, when a show like this decides to feature a new character who happens to be autistic, I believe it gives the cause of autism awareness a much-needed boost.

The autism community has insisted acceptance and inclusion are important. I believe this is a step in that direction. It starts during the formative years, when kids are young. Hopefully, as young kids watch the inclusion of diverse characters, they can grow up to become more compassionate and understanding adults. We could finally have a generation that celebrates uniqueness rather than ridicules it. Julia might help kids appreciate the fact that it’s OK to be different, and people with different abilities can be as much fun as anyone else if we understand them. For someone on the autism spectrum, hopefully this new character will make their interactions with peers a positive one. In my opinion this initiative from “Sesame Street” really matters.

The introductory episode will have Julia hesitating to shake hands with the crew. They will explain why she’s not being impolite and how there are other effective ways to communicate with her. Another episode shows the Muppet Abby and Julia having fun together.

I believe these are small but effective ways to teach young kids about autism.

Although autism diagnoses are almost five times more common in boys than girls, interestingly, “Sesame Street” decided to bring in Julia — a girl on the autism spectrum. This is commendable because it sheds much-wanted light on autism in girls.

Critics are already complaining about typecasting autism through Julia. However, as we all know, they could have introduced any other Muppet and chosen not to represent autism or any other disability. For now, I welcome Julia with open arms, and I hope this brings a new understanding of autism as parents sit next to their little ones and enjoy the show.

Follow this journey on Tulika’s blog.

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Photo image via Sesame Street

Originally published: March 21, 2017
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