Expert: New Sesame Street Character Sends Powerful Message to Community

Julia, a four-year-old character on the autism spectrum, will provide an opportunity to educate viewers about these special members of the community.

For the first time in about 10 years, a new Muppet is taking up permanent residence on “Sesame Street.” Julia, a four-year-old character on the autism spectrum, will provide an opportunity to educate viewers about these special members of the community.

Julia has already been a part of “Sesame Street” storybooks and digital content for a year, and became so popular that a decision was made to add her character to the classic television series.

Julia will debut April 10, appearing in two episodes this season with many more to come.

Expert

Wesley Dotson, assistant professor of educational psychology and co-director of the Burkhart Center for Autism Education & Research, Texas Tech University College of Education, or (806) 834-0783

Quotes

  • “More people have autism today than ever before. More people today know someone who’s on the autism spectrum than ever before, and awareness has been an important part of how the field has gotten there.”
  • “They don’t just provide quality programming, they typically have quality programming that breaks down boundaries, and so Sesame Street’s had a long history of that and it’s nice to know that they’re including a member of that population. Almost 10 percent of kids are somewhere on the autism spectrum, so knowing “Sesame Street” is representing that in its characters is really exciting.”
  • “I think the choice to have a female character is cool as well because autism is predominately, boys to girls, five times more boys than girls have autism, and so a lot of times girls with autism kind of get lost in the shuffle. All the autism awareness is boys, boys, boys, boys, boys, so I think it was an interesting choice that they made it a female character.”
  • “I think one of the biggest misconceptions about autism is that it is somehow a disability that means you can’t have a life. That’s not the case at all.”
  • “People with autism can get married, they can have a job, they can drive a car, they can live in the community and children with autism can go to school and learn and be just as academically and socially successful as their peers. They just need help to get there.”
  • “When you have a character who appears and shows them a possibility, you’re giving a model, you’re giving something a parent can talk about and say ‘hey, if Julia can do this, you can do this,’ ‘hey, Julia did that, you do that.’”

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The Burkhart Center

The Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research

The Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research is part of the College of Education and is the premier center in Lubbock for research, education and assistance for families affected by autism.

Research at the center covers three major aspects: developing strategies for the preparation of teachers to meet the needs of students, examining ways to develop parent support networks and preparing individuals with autism as they transition from school to adult services.

The Transition Academy, the center’s flagship program, is home to about 15 teenagers and young adults who have an autism spectrum disorder. They come to campus Monday through Friday to learn job and life skills, including how to live independently, and many have jobs through partnerships with campus and community organization.

The Burkhart Center is named for Jim and Jere Lynn Burkhart in honor of their grandson Collin.

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