Sesame Street’s New Muppet with Autism Debuts During Autism Awareness Month
- Sesame Street introduced Julia, a four-year-old Muppet with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), April 10 during Autism Awareness Month. (Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop)
- Tonya N. Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology (Meg Cullar/School of Education)
- Stephanie Gerow, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational psychology (Meg Cullar/School of Education)
Baylor School of Education professors offer insights on Julia
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WACO, Texas (April 11, 2017) — This week, Sesame Street has a new Muppet in the neighborhood.
Julia, a four-year-old Muppet with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), was introduced April 10 during Autism Awareness Month.
Tonya N. Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology, and Stephanie Gerow, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational psychology, both in Baylor's School of Education, provide insight on the impact Julia's character can have on awareness and education about autism and interacting with those with different abilities.
Starting dialogue about ASD and other development disabilities
Davis applauds Sesame Street's promotion of diversity and inclusion of children with differences, such as autism, and thinks it can spark dialogue about accepting those with developmental and behavioral differences.
"The more open discussions we have about children with differences, the better," Davis said. "I think this helps people realize that it is okay to recognize that all children have unique strengths and needs, and regardless of any child's strengths, needs or disability, they are children, first and foremost. Like any child, children with disabilities deserve to be included, build friendships and explore their interests."
Teaching children to interact with children with ASD
Gerow stressed that it is important for children to have positive interactions and meaningful friendships with their peers.
"The defining characteristics of ASD are deficits in social communication and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests. Often, we see that children with ASD have difficulty communicating with others. Also, many children with ASD have specific interests in topics that may differ from those of their peers," Gerow said. "Both of these characteristics can impact social relationships, so it's important to promote positive social interactions between children with ASD and their peers."
One way of helping interaction is to teach "children with ASD new social skills and/or teach their peers to initiate and maintain social interactions," Gerow said. Julia's character on Sesame Street will serve as a way to demonstrate and model how to interact with those with ASD.
Seeking opportunities for friendship
While Julia helps to bring more awareness to ASD to children by way of television programming, Gerow recommends parents and children form friendships with those with ASD.
"I think that adults and children should seek out opportunities to interact with individuals with developmental disabilities, including children with ASD," Gerow said. "The best way to learn more about children with ASD is to interact with and form friendships with children with ASD and their loved ones."
Celebrating experiences of those with ASD
Sesame Street's inclusion of Julia further highlights ASD and shares the experiences of those with ASD in a child-friendly way that celebrates development differences.
"I think it is wonderful to have mainstream shows such as Sesame Street include a child with a disability. I am sure there are many children who have a diagnosis of autism or love someone with autism who are so happy to have some of their experiences represented on this show," Davis said.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
ABOUT BAYLOR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation's top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School's research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor's undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.