BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Julia, the newest character on Sesame Street, is starting conversations across the nation. That’s because she is autistic.
Julia debuted on the show when she appeared at a playground with Elmo.
Elmo tells one of the other characters that his dad told him Julia has autism.
“So sometimes she does things a little differently,” said Elmo in the show. “Sometimes Elmo talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times.”
“It’s good for little kids to be exposed to what autism is,” said Dr. Marcus Thomeer, the co-director for the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College. He thinks having a character with autism on the show is a good idea.
“Just the knowledge that we’re all different but we all have something to contribute and we can still interact with people whether they have autism or any disorder or however they present themselves,” said Dr. Thomeer.
He says people with autism have different degrees of the disorder ranging from high functioning cognitive and communication skills to low functioning. The doctor says most people with autism have poor social and verbal skills, restrictive or repetitive patterns, a hard time keeping eye contact and a sensitivity to sound.
They’re some of the characteristics Julia, the newcomer to Sesame Street, has.
“Just because somebody has autism doesn’t mean you can’t interact or engage with them,” said Dr. Thomeer who is hopeful that that is what Julia being on the show will teach children who are watching.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in every 68 children registers on the autism spectrum.
“It’s likely that when they’re on the playground in preschool, they’re going to meet a child or come across a child that has autism.”
While the show is making others aware about the disorder, Dr. Thomeer said it will also be beneficial for children with autism.
“In a good sense, they would see that they’re not alone,” said Dr. Thomeer. “The idea that those characteristics that they might possess, they see in another kid might give them some sense that I’m not the only one.”
Dr. Thomeer is hopeful when parents are watching the show with their kids, they will start conversations about autism. He said it can be as easy as asking a child if they know someone like Julia who does things a little different.
If you want more information about the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius, you can call (716)888-2800 or visit their website here.