ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There's big news from one of the world's most famous neighborhoods. "Sesame Street" has a new character. Her name is Julia, she's 4, and likes chocolate milk and playing with Elmo. She also wears lime green tights that match her eyes. And one more thing - she has autism. Here's Cory Turner of the NPR Ed team.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Julia made her debut yesterday in a digital-only storybook. She and Elmo are swinging at the playground when the fairy-winged Abby asks if she can join them. Here's the narrator.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) Hi Julia, she says again, can I play with you and Elmo? But Julia just looks down. Abby is confused.
TURNER: Elmo then jumps in and begins a remarkable - and remarkably gentle - lesson in how to interpret some behaviors commonly associated with autism.
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) Elmo's daddy told Elmo that Julia has autism, he says, so she does things a little differently. Sometimes Elmo talks to Julia using fewer words and says the same thing a few times.
TURNER: Elmo counsels Abby to be patient waiting for Julia to respond to questions. When the kids go to Mr. Hooper's store for a snack and Julia claps her hands over her ears, Elmo explains that she has really good ears and sometimes hears noises that Elmo doesn't even notice. Jeanette Betancourt, senior VP of social impact for Sesame Workshop, says the power of Julia is not that she's different but that she's a good old-fashioned feisty 4-year-old.
JEANETTE BETANCOURT: She has things she likes, and there's things that she doesn't like or she's more sensitive to. But again, she's just like every other child we know.
TURNER: Julia is part of a big new initiative from Sesame Street called See Amazing in All Children that's meant to share an affirming narrative about autism, which affects 1 in 68 kids in the U.S., according to the CDC. In addition to Julia, there's a website and an app full of resources for parents, siblings and friends. In one video, 6-year-old Angelina talks to my favorite Muppet, Grover, about her 4-year-old twin brothers, A.J. and Garrett, who both have autism.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANGELINA: Garrett can't talk. He uses a special iPad to have him talk.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Grover) He uses an iPad to help him communicate to people?
TURNER: The advocacy group Autism Speaks is one of Sesame Workshop's partners on the initiative. Its president, Liz Feld, says the goal here was to make the playground a kinder, more tolerant place.
LIZ FELD: Sixty percent of children with autism - and this is also, I think, for the broader disability community - are the victims or subject of bullying.
TURNER: It's a simple message that the folks at Sesame hope, when kids hear it at a young age, will really take hold. So they made it the last line in Julia's debut alongside Elmo and Abby.
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Reading) We're all amazing. One, two, three.
TURNER: Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE AMAZING SONG")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Every kid is an original. We're all one-of-a-kind. There's no one else quite like us that you're ever going to find. And that's what makes us wonderful. We're different as can be. But in some real important ways we're still the same, you see. We all can feel happy. We all can feel mad...
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