Meet Julia. She’s the newest resident on Sesame Street. She has red hair, a fondness for her toy rabbit, and she also has autism.
Introducing A New Friend To The Cast
Julia is the first muppet to have autism and will become a regular character on the iconic children’s TV show.
In her first scene, which is set to air in April, Elmo and Abby Cadabby will introduce her to Big Bird, where she will be reluctant to shake his hand, but Elmo will explain to him that “sometimes it takes her longer to do things.”
Julia is played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, who has a son with autism.
“It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” she says in an interview with CBS show 60 Minutes.
“As a parent of a child with autism, I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age.”
It’s not the first time Sesame Street fans have met Julia though, as she was first included as part of the digital story book series called ‘See the Amazing in all Children’, which was released in 2015.
In the book, Elmo explains to Abby Cadabby that Julia “does things a little differently” – she takes a long time to answer questions, she gets flustered by loud sounds, or she might not speak when she is doing other tasks – but Elmo says: “That’s all okay, because everyone is unique”.
Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told 60 Minutes: “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.
“I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on Sesame Street’ who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.”
Sherrie Westin, an executive vice president at Sesame Workshop, oversaw the initiative and says they wanted to make a character that kids could relate to.
“It’s not like there is a typical example of an autistic child, but we do believe that [with] Julia, we worked so carefully to make sure that she had certain characteristics that would allow children to identify with her,” she says.
“It’s what Sesame does best, you know: Reaching children, looking at these things through their lens and building a greater sort of sense of commonality.”
Breaking The Mould
It’s not the first time Sesame Street has tackled real-world issues with its younger viewers since it first aired in 1969.
In 1982, Big Bird dealt with the death of one of its human cast and come to terms with the loss of his friend Mr. Hooper.
— Tom Simpson (@gameraboy1) May 13, 2015
Three years later, Big Bird’s imaginary friend Mr. Snuffleupagus becames visible to humans in an attempt to encourage young viewers not to be afraid people would not believe them if they told them about things like inappropriate behaviour and abuse.
The South African version of the show introduced a character called Kami who is HIV positive in 2002, and in 2006, the Israeli version introduced Mahdoub, an Arab character who speaks Hebrew as well as Sivan, who is in a wheelchair.
For more information on autism, here’s the Autism Awareness homepage.
While autism can be detected at two years-old, many Australian children aren’t being diagnosed until they’re almost six, experts say. Click here to read more about this story.
Meanwhile, here’s a story about one of our Healthy Mummy Community members, who has twins that have been diagnosed with autism.