Sesame Street furry friends Elmo, Abby, Cookie Monster and the rest of the gang have finally been joined by a new friend named Julia, who has autism.
Sesame Street Workshop officially brought her in to join the gang in the hopes that it will help lessen “the stigma of autism” in the "New Kid on the Street" episode on March 17.
“Our goal is to bring forth what all children share in common, not their differences,” the company’s senior vice president of US social impact, Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, told People magazine. “Children with autism share in the joy of playing and loving and being friends and being part of a group."
The initiative is aimed at families with kids ages two to five and includes a free app created to make day-to-day routines for parents of autistic children simpler using digital story cards, video and other tools.
"When we explain from a child's point of view that there are certain behaviors, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children understand how to interact with their autistic peers,” said Betancourt. “It makes children more comfortable and therefore more inclusive."
Some other great news? You can now stream Sesame Street episodes for free through Hoopla Digital. All you need is a library card.
One in 68 American children have been diagnosed with autism, and they’re five times more likely to be bullying victims, according to Betancourt. Sesame Street hopes Julia will help teach parents new tactics to help get through daily rituals like crossing the street, going to bed and brushing teeth, which are often stressful for an autistic child.