Just last month, parents everywhere were elated to learn that Sesame Street would be introducing a brand new character named Julia — a lovable red-haired muppet who just so happens to have autism. The move, producers shared, is part of the show’s ongoing effort to promote inclusion, and will hopefully help normalize and spread autism awareness, specifically, which affects 1 in 68 children in America.
And now, parents have one more reason to cheer: in honor of Autism Awareness Month this April, PBS KIDS will be kicking off a series of autism-related kids shows — starting with Julia’s debut on Sesame Street on April 10.
Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS, told The Mighty:
“Our PBS KIDS Autism Awareness Month programming is important as we reflect the diversity of our audience through our characters. The more kids can relate to these characters, the more they will learn from them. We feel that including special needs and disabilities into that definition of diversity is vital, and we want to set an example for kids so that they are comfortable interacting and communicating with those who may be a little different from them.”
Also in the line-up? Autism-related storylines on both Dinosaur Train and Arthur.
As The Mighty reports, Dinosaur Train will weave in the subject of autism subtly, in a two-part episode airing April 10: the dino kids are going off to Junior Conductor’s Academy, where they’ll each be vying to become first class junior conductors. At first, the character of Buddy thinks he’s going to be the star student — until he meets Dennis Deinocheirus, who’s a whiz at memorizing facts, but seems to have trouble making friends on his own. By Part II of the episode, Buddy and Dennis have become friends and are even working together to study for an upcoming test. Their new challenge? A super intimidating teacher with a super intimidating name: Thurston Troodon.
Arthur‘s autism storyline will be featured in a four-part episode arc (on April 10, 11, 12, and 13) that introduces George to a new friend named Carl, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Carl “sees the world differently than most people,” and has all sorts of cool facts in his head; but it also presents a few challenges to their friendship that the pair need to work through.
Hats off to PBS KIDS, which yet again proves itself to be a cut above the rest.