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Health: Autism Advocates Say New Sesame Street Character Is Making Big Impact

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- With autism numbers continuing to sky-rocket, advocates say a new sesame street character, just introduced is making a big impact.

Experts say autism spectrum disorder is often misunderstood because it can cause a wide range of symptoms.  But now a charming red-headed muppet is changing that.

The Philly Autism support group is introducing their children to the new Sesame Street character Julia.  She has autism a brain disorder that usually affects social interactions.

Lesbeth Little, the head of Philly Autism, and the mother of an autistic child says, "It's bitter sweet, very emotional as a mom with a son who has autism, you look at this character and  I see so many things my son does."

Julia is  part of a new initiative called "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children," #SeeAmazing.

"All the little kids get to see it's ok to be different," says Erin Farrell. She's taught her 7 year old  autistic twins to be proud of their differences, they can easily relate to Julia.  One twin Connor says of Julia, "She has autism,  she's different than other people."

Mom Erin adds, "These kids are just like every other kid, some quirks, some may not speak, some speak differently. They're just like every kid, they want to play, they want to learn."

Because children with autism, typically  have trouble communicating they're often stigmatized and bullied.  That's what Julia's character aims to fix,  familiarity breeds compassion.  "Every child is different just cause they have autism, are a little different, you're still a kid," says Jen Fisher.  She has six  children two are autistic. She says the whole family has embraced Julia.  "I think it's great kids are finally going to have a character they can relate to," Jen says.

The Sesame Street Autism  program is available as an app and on desktops and it  includes a variety of educational resources.

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