Julia may take a while to respond, and probably won’t make eye contact, but as Sesame Street fairy Abby Cadabby would say, “That’s just Julia being Julia.”
In its 47th season, the veteran PBS show will introduce its first muppet with autism, a redhead 4-year-old named Julia. She carries her favorite stuffed rabbit with her and likes to draw, sing and play with her friends Abby, Elmo and Big Bird.
This follows her appearance in print and digital materials as part of the “See Amazing in All Children” initiative from Sesame Workshop, the show’s nonprofit educational outreach and research program. According to an interview with NPR, Julia’s move to the neighborhood has been in the works for about three years. Sherrie Westin, executive vice president at Sesame Workshop says Julia’s presence in books and online has already resonated with parents of children with autism.
"We realized if we brought her to life appearing in Sesame Street on air as well, she would have even more impact [and] be able to reach even more children," Westin told NPR.
Long-time Sesame Street puppeteer Stacy Gordon will play Julia on the show, and says she feels a personal connection to the character. She’s done therapeutic work for patients with autism in the past, and has a son on the spectrum whom she believes would have benefitted from seeing a character like Julia on TV.
"Man, I really wish that kids in my son's class had grown up with a Sesame Street that had modeling [of] the behavior of inclusion of characters with autism," Gordon said.
Julia’s friends help explain she may cover hear ears at the sound of sirens, or flap her arms when she gets excited, saying it’s important for her to feel at home with everyone else at Sesame Street.
"I would love her to be not Julia the kid on Sesame Street who has autism,” writer Christine Ferraro said to CBS’ 60 minutes. “ I would like her to be just Julia."
Examples of neurodiversity in the media have become increasingly prevalent as more children are being diagnosed with autism compared to generations past, one in 68 kids according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Sesame Street has been a champion for teaching compassion and kindness to all people, and has become the model example of publically broadcasted children’s shows while highlighting how successful educational media is and can continue to be.
Screenshot via Sesame Street
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