Creators of iconic children's show, Sesame Street, are doing their part to combat the stigma surrounding autism developmental disorders by introducing a new muppet character with autism.
On 10 April, Julia−who is already included in digital and printed storybooks− will make her debut on the show that made the Elmo and The Cookie Monster household names. Promo shots reveal that the little girl has orange hair, wears a pink dress, and has a toy rabbit.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that impacts a person's communication, social interaction, interests and behaviour. Producers have worked closely with experts in a bid to explain the condition to younger audiences. Julia's puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, also has an autistic son.
"The big discussion right at the start was, 'How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'" Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told the CBS News show 60 Minutes.
"It's tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism."
Julia was added to the main show having initially featured in the programme "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children."
Viewers can expect Julia to display some common characteristics of autism during her first appearance as the gang learn about her differences and hidden talents. For instance, when Big Bird is introduced to her, she ignores him which leads him to believe she doesn't like him, but the other muppets reassure a confused Big Bird that: "She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way."
In another scene, she starts jumping up and down with excitement during a game of tag. But rather than reject her Julia, change their game in order to make her fell included.
Elsewhere in the episode, the muppets point out that Julia is really good at game spotting shapes saying: " You're lucky. You have Julia on your team".
"We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children," Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact, said. "We're modelling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share."