Sesame Street announced Monday that a new Muppet was coming to the street: Julia, who has autism.
This was personal; my 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism before she was 4. And my first thought was personal, too: "Where was Julia when I needed her?"
On a second, more selfless thought, I was grateful. Julia arrives just in time for another generation of diagnosed children -- and their parents. That's because autism is as much a caregiver's journey as it is a child's. It's as much of a community journey, too.
I'm interested to see the first time Julia has a meltdown, which is less common than you would think, but can be devastating to watch and can prompt questions from casual bystanders, engaged parents or a concerned new friend. I'm even more interested in the first time another child turns to a grown-up to ask, "What's wrong with her?"
What about the first time Julia is blunt and honest with Mr. Snuffleupagus: "May I hug your fat?" (That has happened. And loudly. And I laughed. And loudly.)
One hopes those moments are being worked on, with real reactions, including the spit take for the latter. If that's the case, the addition of Julia will be as much for a neurotypical audience as it is for those living with autism.
If that's the case, every moment can be a teachable one.
All signs indicate that will be the case. What's already genuine is that creators made Julia a 4-year-old girl; numbers say that boys are more likely to be diagnosed but the numbers for girls are going up. Because she hadn't seen as many, my child's first Pre-K teacher was excited to have a girl in the classroom. Julia's age is close to when diagnosis should hopefully occur, too, and may even spur people to get diagnoses early, no matter the gender.
Sesame Street took its time with this one; always a good thing to do with things that matter. Julia, first put in circulation in 2015, won't appear onscreen until April 10 on HBO and PBS Kids. And Julia is in good hands with puppeteer Stacey Gordon, whose son is autistic.
But there's this, and it's important: Sesame Street needs to make sure Julia has fun, too. And that it's not all about her autism, all the time. If she's like the autistic little girl I love, she just wants to do the same things other children do: laugh, play, smile, cry. And, in most cases, my little one succeeds. Still, in all cases, she just wants to be like other children.
That's where Sesame Street, now renewed through Season 50 and groundbreaking in many of them, has helped already. Even the announcement about Julia, along with an arsenal of offerings aimed at autism, has helped bring more awareness.
When a show as universally accepted as Sesame Street validates the existence of such a child, it helps others believe the saying parents of autistic children know all too well: "Different, not less."
And, I'd like to add, "included."