Youngstown developmental experts excited about new Muppet with autism

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Sesame Street, the children’s TV show that made Big Bird and Cookie Monster famous, will be adding a new Muppet — the show’s first character with autism. Developmental experts in Youngstown think it’s a great idea.

Autism is a neurological disorder. No one can figure out how it starts and there is no cure. But children will have a new way of recognizing autism next month — through a new character named Julia.

“I think it’s going to be able to introduce a whole new generation to autism. It’ll increase their understanding, they’ll be more compassionate,” said Paul Garchar, with Potential Development.

Garchar said that means students will be more likely to incorporate a student with autism into their activities, sit with them at lunch, and not be afraid of them.

“I think it’s absolutely a teaching tool. The fact that it’s targeted at preschool level, children three to five years old, they’ll hear that word. They’ll ask appropriate questions through the parent and through their teacher.”

Rather than being treated like an outsider, Sesame Street will show Julia as part of the group.

“They could be very helpful in identifying shapes, was the example that I saw. ‘We’re so lucky Julia’s on our team because she’s really good at identifying shapes!’ So really finding the positives and working on the strengths of all children with autism,” said Melanie Carfolo, with the Rich Center for Autism.

Right now, that is one in every 68 births which puts a child on the spectrum. Julia represents the full range of children — she isn’t meant to typify each one.

“Not all children with autism are nonverbal, not all have aggressive behaviors. So if it can kind of break down those myths and just promote that each child with autism is unique,” Garchar said.

Julia comes to life by a puppeteer who has a son with autism.

Carfolo is anxious for all children to see this.

“We utilize Sesame Street, and Blue’s Clues, and all different kinds of children’s programming in our instruction, and I feel like if they have a character that they can associate with, they’ll be excited about that,” she said.

Julia makes her Sesame Street debut on April 10, airing on both PBS and HBO.

April is also Autism Awareness Month.