Julia brings 'Sunny Days' to kids with autism
Experts look at value of new addition to Sesame Street
Elmo. Big Bird. Bert. Ernie.
We know these familiar names from Sesame Street like they are family members. Maybe, because they all had a hand in raising most of us.
But now a new character has brought excitement from families of children with disabilities and health care professionals alike.
Julia is an orange-haired girl with autism, who is a friend of Elmo’s. The new character will help children get a glimpse of the life of a child with autism and explain why she gets upset over loud noises or memorizes the words to so many songs.
“I think this is really great,” said Barbi Beard-Wolfe, the Parents as Partners coordinator at Cook Children’s. “Introducing Julia to kids at an early age teaches children different approaches to ways of life, interaction with others and that people with disabilities are more alike than different. People who have autism or other challenges have value and can have a meaningful life like typically developing people.”
Beard-Wolfe believes by including Julia as a character, Sesame Street is teaching children how to have social interaction with others and hopefully prevent stereotypes.
“Hopefully, by kids growing up with this character, they will think a child with autism or another disability is OK instead of weird and they will learn to enjoy and see the value in their differences.”
Beard-Wolfe has a child with Down syndrome and is happy that kids may learn "more alike than different approach.”
Denise Coover , a clinical social worker with the Psychology department at Cook Children’s, believes Sesame Street may help not only children, but adults learn more about children who have been diagnosed with a Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Sesame Street has done a spectacular job celebrating children who have this diagnosis as special, unique and wanting the same things as children who are developing in a typical manner. I read that Sesame Street chose Julia to be a girl, rather than a boy to bring to light that although the disorder occurs more frequently in boys, girls can also have the disorder,” Coover said. “Showing other children how to have empathy and to recognize that children on the spectrum see the world in the most amazing way. They will teach you to find joy in things in ways you would have never imagined. One of my favorite things about children on the spectrum is that they really are present in the moment, not in the past and not in the future – they live right in the here and now. “
Coover believes Sesame Street could help children to recognize all the unique and fun experiences they will have when they befriend a child on the spectrum, as well as offer insight into hand flapping and other behaviors that may be difficult for children to decipher and note that we all have things we do that make us stand out.
Some children jump when excited, some run in circles and some flap their hands. Who is to say that there is one acceptable way of showing excitement? Sesame Street offers different videos to watch, including an e-book. Coover says it would be beneficial to view for children in many settings, like day cares, mother day out programs, preschools, etc. It also offers support to parents on interacting with other parents who have children with an autism diagnosis, as some parents are uncertain about how to support another parent.
“A unique offering is the view of the sibling who happens to have a family member who has autism,” Coover said. “It offers a perspective that I think is sometimes overlooked. Siblings play such an important role in any family, but when a child is diagnosed with Autism, the sibling is put into a position that can feel very lonely and full of adult responsibilities and worry. Sesame Street has offered normalization to a sibling experience that is both encouraging and supportive.”
*Images courtesy of Sesame Workshop