According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. As part of Sesame Street's new initiative of "See Amazing in All Children", the show that brought kids Elmo, Oscar, Cookie Monster, Grover, and others now bring a new character who has autism named Julia.
According to Fortune, there will be a new program featuring Julia and will be available online and free on a downloadable application that includes video as well as other interactive elements. Sherrie Westin, the executive vice president of global impacts and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, has said that "Families with autistic children tend to gravitate toward digital content, which is why we created Julia digitally."
In the digital storybook, Julia plays with Elmo, who then shows his friends how to play with Julia as well. An example of Julia exhibiting autistic behavior is her sensitivity to loud noises, holding her hands over her ears when a blender is in operation. The emphasis will be more on what Julia has in common with other children rather than what makes her different.
According to People, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact, Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, said that "children with autism are five times more likely to get bullied. Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences. Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group."
Sesame Workshop has wanted to do something about the subject of autism for years. According to a popular blogger Autism Daddy, who has worked on Sesame Street for 21 years and has a son who was diagnosed with autism ten years ago, Sesame Workshop wanted to accomplish three things with the new Autism program.
The first step was to use Sesame Street characters on routine cards. The Sesame Street and Autism website has eight different "Daily Routine Cards" that are a free digital tool to help a child learn different steps involved in everyday activities like teeth-brushing.
The second step was the need to educate the general public about autism, particularly preschoolers. Sesame Street's website has an animated video known as "Benny's Story" that tells a personal story of a kid with autism and some of his behaviors that make him not too different from the rest of the kids.
The third area of focus was reaching parents of those who have children with autism, showing the challenges but also the joys of raising a child with autism.
Considering that Sesame Street is offering digital resources to increase understanding of autism, it looks like they want to keep Julia in digital form. It doesn't seem like Julia will be made into an actual puppet and visiting Sesame Street on the television program, at least on in current plans.