Phoenix woman to puppet Sesame Street's first autistic muppet

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A new character is coming to Sesame Street and the puppeteer is from the Valley. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A new character is coming to Sesame Street and the puppeteer is from the Valley. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Julia is the first member of the beloved Muppet gang with autism. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Julia is the first member of the beloved Muppet gang with autism. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Julia is 4 and loves to play, but she isnt as verbal as other characters and she has trouble with loud noises. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Julia is 4 and loves to play, but she isnt as verbal as other characters and she has trouble with loud noises. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

There’s Bert, Ernie, Elmo and next month, "Sesame Street" will introduce a new character: Julia.

She’s the first member of the beloved Muppet gang with autism, and her puppeteer is a Phoenix woman with a personal connection to the disorder.

“I have a son who has high functioning autism,” said Stacey Gordon. “I want to do my best to bring Julia to the world in the best light possible.”

Gordon owns Puppet Pie, a puppet workshop in downtown Phoenix.

“It's important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” she said.

Julia will make her TV debut April 10 on HBO and PBS Kids. She first appeared on Sesame Street’s digital storybook series in 2015.

[READ MORE: A Muppet with autism to be welcomed soon on 'Sesame Street']

She’s 4 and loves to play, but she isn’t as verbal as other characters and she has trouble with loud noises.

“Had my son's friends been exposed to his behaviors through something they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened,” Gordon told 60 Minutes in a report that aired Sunday.

Children on the autism spectrum have symptoms and behaviors that vary widely, but the creators of Sesame Street decided to highlight one in particular that Valley mom Karey Stevenson is familiar with: flapping arms.

“I didn't know what autism was, but I knew something was wrong,” she said.

After her daughter Sienna was diagnosed on the spectrum, Stevenson was concerned she would be bullied. She’s convinced Julia will help.

“It's going to be amazing in teaching her peers, the kids that she's going to be attending school with, what autism is. What it looks like. What it might present itself with, and be more compassionate and understanding,” she said.

One in 66 kids in Arizona is diagnosed with autism. But the average age of diagnosis is 5.5 years old, said Daniel Openden of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

“If parents are watching this with their little kids, they might also become more aware of the symptoms of autism. They might seek out a diagnosis earlier and if we can get those kids identified earlier and into treatment earlier and into treatment earlier, the outcomes we can achieve for those kids may be so much better,” he said.

Consider Stevenson’s daughter, Sienna. She was diagnosed at 18 months and her parents opted to place her into a treatment program at SARRC right away.

“She was initially measuring as a 3-month-old even though she was 18 months,” Stevenson said. “In just a year of all of her intensive early interventions, she has gone from not only age appropriate but beyond.”

Sienna doesn’t flap her arms anymore, and Stevenson said a lot more kids could have similar results – all thanks to a Muppet.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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