A brand new Muppet will debut next month on Sesame Street. The new character is Julia, who has autism. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says our region's Autism Services is very excited about the character.
"We are just thrilled beyond belief to see kids with autism spectrum disorders represented on Sesame Street, of all programs. I mean, how many of us grew up watching Sesame Street, how many kids watch it,” declared Tracy Panzarella, director of Clinical Services at Autism Services in Amherst.
Panzarella tells WBFO it's important to have the autism population properly represented in the media. She noted the character will help teach children at a young age about autism, especially when it comes to socialization and acceptance.
Panzarella noted Julia's "ability to play tag with the other Muppets."
"She doesn’t really play according to the rules. She kind of makes up her own. She tries to integrate with other kids, but she just does it a little differently, and as the other Muppets say, Julia kind of does things her own way,” Panzarella said.
Julia the Muppet portrays a four-year-old girl with autism. This newest Sesame Street character will appear April 10 as the program kicks off its 47th season.
The Center for Disease Control said one in 68 American children have autism.
“Everybody knows somebody, whether it’s in the family or friend of the family that’s somewhere on the autism spectrum, so again, providing early education about the disorder to younger children is just going to help them to grow up to be more tolerant, more accepting, more understanding and more sensitive to the differences that these kids have,” explained Panzarella. “So I think really, in terms of educating even very young children about autism and how kids, with an autism diagnosis are a little bit different, but that they are still kids."
The new Muppet will also provide a learning tool for children who have a sibling with autism. WBFO asked Panzarella if she believes the portrayal of those with the disorder is long overdue to break down barriers.
“I think it is definitely long overdue. We’ll get questions from families about educating, especially siblings of kids not on the spectrum and it can be really hard for a younger child to understand why their brother or sister acts differently than other kids,” Panzarella noted. “I think it is going to be a huge resource.
Panzarella says she applauds Sesame Street for their progressive thinking in creating this character.