Super Grover might be Sesame Street's most famous superhero, but to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, no Muppet is more heroic than Julia.
Julia, friend of Oscar and Big Bird, is Sesame Street's first autistic character and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Last week, Mr. Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, invited Julia's creators to address congressional staffers whose bosses are being asked to support increased federal support for autism.
Mr. Doyle and Mr. Smith, co-chairmen of the House Autism Conference, want the federal government to ensure better training on autism awareness for teachers, healthcare professionals and parents . Their aim is to ensure earlier diagnosis of autism, which researchers say is strongly linked to better outcomes.
The introduction of Julia on Sesame Street, which is watched by children and parents alike, is one step in the right direction, Mr. Doyle said.
"It's great that autistic children will be able to see someone like them on screen. Not only will Sesame Street be telling autistic kids that they are a valuable part of our coummunity; it will also be bringing that message to other kids and teaching them the best ways to be more inclusive," Mr. Doyle said during the briefing.
Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president for U.S. social impact, said Julia helps demonstrate commonalities between all children while addressing misconceptions about autism.
"We can change the world ... through greater understanding," she said. "To truly have inclusion we need to have inclusion and understanding from the earliest stages."
Autism expert Jennifer Stapel-Wax also addressed aides at the briefing. Ms. Stapel-Wax is associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine and director of infant and clinical research operations at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta.
"We need to coach parents about the importance of interaction during everyday activities" such as grocery shopping, she said. "Children with autism especially need this kind of encouragement."
For more information about Sesame Street's Julia, visit www.sesamestreet.org/autism.