Sesame Street Introduces New Character With Autism
(YouTube / Sesame Street)
In April, a new muppet will be moving to Sesame Street for the first time in ten years. Julia, a four-year-old who is already friends with Elmo and Abby, will be introducing characters and viewers to children with Autism.
Julia has been in development with Sesame Workshop (the non-profit parent company of Sesame Street) for about three years. After appearing in an online-only Digital Storybook story called “Sesame Street and Autism: See the amazing in all children” in 2015, Julia will make her TV debut April 10.
Sherrie Westin, the executive vice president at Sesame Workshop who oversaw the development, told NPR that Julia quickly struck a chord with their audience. “One of my favorite stories is a mother who said that she used the book to explain to her child that she had autism like Julia. This became the tool for her to have a conversation with her 5-year-old daughter. At the end her daughter said, ‘So I’m amazing too, right?'”
During the development of Julia’s character, the team at Sesame Workshop consulted with autism organizations, educators, and families on how to not only accurately portray a child with autism, but also how to explain the condition to young children. Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro explained, “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
Even the veteran puppeteer who plays Julia has a personal connection to the character. Stacey Gordon used to do therapeutic work for people with autism, and her own son is on the spectrum. Says Gordon, “As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that Julia had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age.”
Adding a permanent character to Sesame Street doesn’t happen very often, but Westin says this is a logical step. “We realized if we brought her to life appearing in Sesame Street on air, she would have even more impact and be able to reach even more children.” On the show, Julia will be included in just about everything, from lessons to singing songs. “She’s one of the kids, she’s one of the gang,” said Rose Jochum, director of internal initiatives at the Autism Society of America, “It’s really meaningful to see her there, singing with Elmo, Big Bird and all the other characters. It’s great.”