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Local social workers react to Sesame Street's announcement of muppet with autism

Sesame Street will soon have a new muppet, Julia, who has autism.

Sesame Street's success spans nearly five decades, and the popular children's television show is adding a new muppet to the mix for the first time in a decade.

The newest character in the workshop, Julia, stands out with her bright red hair and bold green eyes.

Yet her most significant characteristic is one beyond the eye's reach -- Julia has autism.

"She gives a face to a characteristic that a lot of people share," says Wayne Clayton, a facility coordinator with Options of Linn County, an organization providing services to adults with various disabilities including autism.

Judy Monk, also a facility coordinator at Options, estimates around 15 percent of Options' clients have autism, causing them to experience difficulty communicating and socializing.

Monk anticipates introducing a character with autism will be to the benefit of all viewers.

"The more exposure there is for people with autism, the better we all will be," said Monk, adding Julia will give children on the spectrum a relatable character.

Mike Mitchell, a program officer at Four Oaks, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children becoming successful adults, says Julia will also help raise awareness for those not intimately affected by autism.

"Kids with autism, adults with autism, are just part of our daily experience," Mitchell pointed out. "It's just not invisible. It's a part of life. It's a part of what we are as people."

Mitchell, who works with individuals from various backgrounds, says Julia can teach people not to underestimate others who may be different.

"Irregardless of our differences, we all contribute," said Mitchell. "Let's not be afraid of differences. Let's feel like we can be okay with somebody who is a little different, who presents a little different than we do."

He describes the move by the show's developers as "cool" and "fun," noting the decision could give people with autism more confidence.

"For the children who have a diagnosis along the spectrum, [I hope] that they can see themselves, that they don't have to, as is so often the case, feel excluded," said Mitchell.

Even though Sesame Street is known as a children's show, many adults, including Clayton, Mitchell, and Monk, say they plan to tune in when Julia makes her debut on April 10.

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