DETROIT (WWJ) – There’s a big bird, a grouch in a can, a pair of male roommates and monsters of all kinds — but Julia the Muppet is a first on Sesame Street.
Look for her eye-catching orange hair, yellow skin and wide eyes — but what makes 4-year-old Julia truly unique on the popular PBS program: She’s autistic.
“Parents are very excited about it,” says Colleen Allen, President and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan.
In Michigan, Allen says the numbers are hard to translate but, about one in 68 people are affected by autism.
What does she hope to see explored on the show?
“How we might interact with a child that is affected I think is great education for our community,” she told WWJ’s Laura Bonnell. “And it’s really about inclusion and acceptance.”
Allen explains autism spectrum disorder and autism are general terms used for a range of complex disorders concerning brain development.
“With the spectrum can come very high ability. Children can enter regular classrooms, pursue college and university and even graduate with advanced degrees,” Allen said. “So we really, what we want is for others to understand that can be the case.”
Allen says some children with autism can find it difficult to make friends, and need other children to learn to better understand how they function.
In one clip, shared by CBS’ 60 Minutes, Julia is introduced to Big Bird, who becomes confused when she doesn’t acknowledge him.
At Sesame Workshop, executive vice president Sherrie Westin says careful consideration went into the creation of this new character.
“It’s not like there is a typical example of an autistic child, but we do believe that [with] Julia, we worked so carefully to make sure that she had certain characteristics that would allow children to identify with her,” Westin said on 60 Minutes. “It’s what Sesame does best, you know: Reaching children, looking at these things through their lens and building a greater sort of sense of commonality.”
Reaction to videos featuring Julia released on YouTube has been largely positive.
Melanie Czoka Simmons commented: “I can’t thank you enough Sesame Street! I’m crying tears of happiness right now. I cant wait to show my 5-year-old autistic son all of these videos! Pleassse make Julia great at number and patterns to show how super smart so many autism kiddos are.”
Sesame Street will air the special episode “Meet Julia” Monday, April 10 on HBO and PBS KIDS.