Days after major budget cuts toward public access television were announced, Sesame Street is introducing a new character to their 48-year-old children's show.
Julia, who took three years to conceptualize, is a four-year-old, red haired character with autism. She is the show's first puppet with autism, which highlights the effort to embrace and educate kids on the developmental disorder that affects thousands of children and adults.
"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," Sherrie Westin, an executive vice president at Sesame Workshop told NPR.
"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."
In developing Julia, and outside educational tools for children with autism, the Sesame Street Workshop consulted 14 autism groups. One was a team of researchers at Georgetown University who surveyed more than 1,000 families on how effectively Sesame Street tools were working.
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As NPR reports, preliminary findings suggest the material helps families with autistic children feel more comfortable incorporating them in broader community activities, and that families whose children do not have autism are more accepting of those kids who do.
Julia will be introduced to viewers on April 10 and will appear in two episodes this season, and more next season.