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Sesame Street introduces first character with autism

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Lesley Stahl watches a taping of “Sesame Street”               CBS News

We love the idea of Julia, and can't wait to see her on the big screen! "We hope that Julia, the Sesame Street character, will have a similar effect and inspire other writers and film-makers to reflect the diversity of the autism spectrum in their work". "It's just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things". Sesame Street's website has since provided additional details about the character, as well as a number of introductory videos before her official April 10 arrival on the series.

"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, said to NPR. She also has autism. And the kids react well, but joining Julia and jumping up and down also. "#SeeAmazing", tweeted the show this Monday, and the post has been retweeted over 3,000 times.

It was with keen interest that Stacey Gordon first learned of Julia more than a year ago. "You have Julia on your team, and she is really good at finding shapes!" Julia's gender is thought to be particularly significant, since some autism researchers believe the condition is underdiagnosed in girls. She's even been built with two sets of arms that can be switched out, one specially built for flapping. While they are playing, Julia often mimics Abby's words. "And they see that these - these can be their friends, too". When Julia doesn't answer or make eye contact, Elmo steps in to explain why.

"In the USA, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder", said Betancourt. There's greater awareness, and there has been much progress understanding autism.

Julia was initially included as a playmate for Elmo and Abby Cadabby in Sesame's 2015 Digital Storybook.

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Sesame Street is independently produced by Sesame Workshops, but does rely on funding by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help it reach children nationwide through stations like PBS.

"Sesame Street" also has a history of tackling hard life topics for young children where other shows might gloss over them. Ultimately, they chose to address the character's death on the show to teach children about death and grieving.

"Had my son's friends been exposed to his behaviors through something they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened", Gordon told 60 Minutes in a report that aired Sunday.

Big Bird thinks "that maybe she didn't like me", but the other muppets tell him that "she does things just a little differently".

To get Julia right, the show met with with organizations, experts, and families within the autism community for several years. The relationship between Julia and the other members of the show will focus on communication and understanding.

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