This is news many of us having been waiting for... Sesame Street has a new character, a four year old named Julia. Not only does this adorable new personality have bright orange hair and enthusiasm for life, she also has Autism.
When I heard of this, I immediately searched for every video and article I could find to read more of this new character and Sesame's Streets push for inclusion and acceptance. This show has always been a wonderful platform to teach life lessons to children and Sesame Street has done it again. Julia is a bright character that is immediately accepted into the Sesame Street family, portrayed as an old friend of Elmo. While Julia gets along well with the other characters, she does things a little differently at times. She covers her ears when loud noises overwhelm her, flaps her arms when she is excited, and sometimes avoids eye contact with others. I especially love how real the show is making this character. They are not trying to cover anything or pretend she doesn't have a disability... instead they embrace everything that makes Julia unique. There have been many times when I have watched someone in the community seem uncomfortable, unaware of how to interact with someone with a disability. This is when we often see people with disabilities treated like tragic heroes or victims. In Sesame Street everyone simply embraces Julia. They acknowledge ad accept her differences, and are quick to explain that while Julia does have Autism, it simply makes her "just Julia".
I am twenty years old and you can bet I will be watching Sesame Street. I am eager to see what situations and experiences Julia will have on the show, and how other Autistic traits might be portrayed. This is a huge step for the already inclusive cast of Sesame Street and I can't thank them enough. I am eager to see upcoming episode and watch this new story line unfold. To those inside the disability community, I know many of us are doing our own little happy dance right now!
For those who do not have a child with a disability, please use this as a tool to teach your children about Autism and other disabilities. Teach them that these individuals do have differences, just like everyone else has something that makes them unique. Teach them to not be afraid of the child with Autism in their classroom, but instead be a young friend and peer advocate. Children curious, let them be curious. Show them that it is not only okay to reach out to a child with disabilities, but encouraged. And adults....nobody is too old to watch Sesame Street. :)