Big Bird and Elmo have a new neighbor on Sesame Street.
The long-running children's television show introduced a new character on Monday. Julia is a 4-year-old girl who can come across as shy, in part because she has Autism.
Autism affects one in 68 American children, mostly boys, though more and more girls are being diagnosed. It's a neurodevelopmental disorder that can lead to varying degrees of social, behavioral and communication difficulties.
Sesame Street creators worked to develop Julia for more than a year, working with Autism organizations while creating Julia, to decide which characteristics she should have and how best to introduce her to children.
Julia was introduced on the HBO and PBS show as she meets Big Bird, whose feelings get hurt because Julia is reluctant to shake his hand. That gives Elmo the opportunity to explain that Julia has Autism and it "sometimes takes her a little longer to do things.”
East Tennessee support groups say a character with autism is important to set an example for kids.
"I think that children, after getting to know the character Julia, will be more likely to interact with children who maybe don't play the same way as they do. Whether its Autism or just a difference in personality," said Veronica Cordell, Autism Site Knoxville,