For those that have not yet heard, Sesame Street will be introducing a new character to its HBO show this season, Julia. While Sesame Street has introduced dozens of new characters over the 50 some odd years it’s been airing, Julia is likely to be the most intriguing, and most relevant of them all.

Julia is diagnosed with Autism. For those interested in learning more about Autism, click here.

Autism, a word that all parents fear hearing from their pediatrician’s mouth, is not only a diagnosis all parents dread, but also a diagnosis that has become so prevalent, while also challenging and debilitating, in our society. To read more on possible causes of Autism, click here.

I work with people with developmental disabilities and have done so since earning my Bachelors Degree. When I got into the field, 1 out of every 268 children were diagnosed with Autism, mostly predominant in boys. That was around 2005. Today, just 12 years and a Masters in Social Work later, 1 out of 68 children are given the diagnosis (still mostly predominant in boys), yet still, without any scientifically proven cause and most importantly no cure. While many studies have shown there is no better support than early intervention for a child diagnosed with Autism, there is still a long and bumpy road ahead, for the child, the family and the entire support system. To find out more about early intervention services, click here.

The addition of Julia to Sesame Street is long overdue, on many levels. It provides “someone like me” for the too many children living with Autism and a place to feel at home for the likely many children diagnosed that watch Sesame Street. Maybe Sesame Street can provide the voice that many of them don’t have. Maybe Julia’s stereotypic behaviors break down the barriers that impede so many families from integrating into typical social settings. Maybe Julia brings a glimmer of hope for the parents, who are forced to live the diagnosis alongside their children and address the barrage of questions from all who they encounter. It most certainly brings exposure to children who are not on the Autism Spectrum and at such a young age, young enough where it can be learned that yes, a child with Autism may be different, but different is unique, and unique is interesting and that’s perfectly okay. Aside from early exposure, hopefully Julia also provides a glimpse of the peers they are likely to encounter when they start school. It will be so okay, to the point that they become more accepting and those diagnosed with Autism, more accepted. Hopefully it will teach a greater understanding and empathy for all of those impacted and help children with Autism and their families continue to fight for their inclusion and integration into society. Inclusion and integration that is all too often accompanied with dirty looks, eye rolls and whispers.

“Meet Julia” will air on HBO and PBS Kids on Monday, April 10th.

Until next time…