SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The newest Muppet on the Sesame Street block has bright red hair and green eyes. She also has autism.
“We can refer to autism in a way that’s very child-friendly and very relatable for the children,” said Kate Campana, a special needs teacher.
Teachers across the country are applauding the move by the popular children’s show Sesame Street, which debuted a character with autism.
“Julia’s character provides us with an entry point to start that discussion,” said Campana.
Julia is four years old, shy, misses social cues from time to time, and tends to repeat what she has just heard from others.
“You have to understand that these are dramatic characters,” said Marilyn Perry, a counselor for people with developmental disorders, “they are exaggerating some of the characteristics.”
She says normalizing autism and getting people talking about the issue can have benefits.
“You’re beginning to introduce this person as a real person even though they are different,” said Perry.
But she cautions that the television portrayal could lead to added material for bullies.
“It can also draw attention to them, and kids are very cruel,” said Perry.
Another challenge for TV and movie creators is understanding the broad spectrum of severity within an autism diagnosis.
“It is a very complex disorder,” said Perry.
While there is some progress on Sesame Street, Perry says more education is needed on Main Street.
“A lot more changes need to happen, and maybe they will,” said Perry.