We all win when “Sesame Street” invites Muppet with autism to play


This month, which is National Autism Awareness Month, the first episodes of “Sesame Street” with Julia, a new Muppet who has autism, began airing on HBO. They’ll air on PBS next year.

Austin mom Catherine Bills and her daughter Ava, 6, who has autism, says, it “warms my heart” to see Julia in the show. Ava still watches “Sesame Street” because she has a 3-year-old brother, and when she saw teases introducing Julia, her mom says, she recognized that that girl painting was like her.

“PBS helps in so many ways,” Bills says. “They are showing kids that it’s OK to be different” and how to learn to play together.

In the episode, Big Bird gets frustrated with Julia when she doesn’t immediately respond to him, but Elmo explains that Julia does things differently. And we see that while the other kids are working on painting their pictures in simpler lines, Julia comes up with an amazing painting.

Bills hopes that for kids her son’s age, they’ll grow up with Julia. “Maybe in my son’s generation, it will be OK to be different.”

Autism now affects 1 in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For kids who have autism, it allows them to see themselves in the mainstream and maybe understand themselves,” says Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler, who works with autistic children and their families as the head of Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas’ child and adolescent psychiatry program.

Ripperger-Suhler says she explains to kids who have been given an autism diagnosis that “your brain is made differently; you experience the world differently. This place that you have trouble making friends, it’s because of the autism. We’re not going to change your brain, but we can help you recognize social cues, make friends and have relationships.”

“It’s about learning, learning how to do things in a different way,” she says. Sometimes medications are needed for anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or irritability that sometimes accompany autism, but mostly treating children with autism is about developing skills that work for them in the world around them.

What “Sesame Street” has done is making children with autism part of that world. “It’s an inclusion thing,” she says. “When you have a child off of the bell curve, it can be a very isolating, difficult road for parents.”

“Seeing a child included in something as ubiquitous and popular as ‘Sesame Street,’ — it’s my kid counts,” she says.

Ripperger-Suhler says often doctors are diagnosing kids on the lower-functioning end of the scale by age 2 because they now do more screening to look for it. Kids who are higher-functioning, like Julia would be considered, sometimes don’t get diagnosed until they go to school.

More and more research is being done about what causes autism and what therapies can be done. “We’re trying to understand what autism is,” she says. One theory is that people with autism pay more attention to objects than to people and that they see people as similar to objects, she says.

The National Institutes of Health has been doing research into whether a gluten-free, casein-free diet works. Like many disorders and diseases, scientists are also trying to narrow down which genes are affected and what kind of therapy could be done. Because autism has such a range, being able to identify type of autism based on your genes would be one scientific breakthrough that would make a difference in the type of treatment and inventions doctors would recommend, Ripperger-Suhler says.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

Where’s the best state to have a baby? Hint: It’s not Texas
Where’s the best state to have a baby? Hint: It’s not Texas

Want to live in the best state to have a baby? Move to Vermont. Think you live in the worst state to have a baby? That’s Mississippi.  That’s according to a new study by financial services company WalletHub. Photos.com Here’s how Texas ranked: 46th in midwives and obstetrician/gynecologists per capita 36th in pediatricians...
Could your child be gifted? Here's what you need to know 
Could your child be gifted? Here's what you need to know 

Just about every parent has heard their child say something that seems advanced for his age. Or seen her show off an impressive new skill and wondered, "Is my child is gifted?" Of course, each child has special talents and interests, but giftedness is usually identified in specific ways. What does it mean to be gifted and what traits could...
Eight things to do the night before school starts
Eight things to do the night before school starts

The excitement is building. Kids are heading back to school, beginning Wednesday for kids in the Bastrop, Lake Travis and a few other districts. Over the course of the next two weeks, the school buses will be running again, the kids will be back to learning again. RELATED: Do you know when school starts? Are you ready? Mirielle...
Child obese? It could be the mom’s fault, study says
Child obese? It could be the mom’s fault, study says

Moms, when it comes to your child’s weight, you matter. A new study in the British Medical Journal confirms this. The study looked at more than 24,000 children of more than 16,000 nurses enrolled in the Nurses Health Study II in the 1990s. The researchers specifically looked at children who were not obese before age 9...
12 fascinating Texans and where to find their graves
12 fascinating Texans and where to find their graves

As one is often reminded, Texas is a really big place. As a result, it has generated a whole mess of incredibly interesting people. A lot of them are no longer alive. Here is where to find the graves of 12 fascinating Texans from throughout history. Bigger than life for virtually his entire existence, Crockett was a Tennessee congressman, a near-mythical...
More Stories