Sesame Street character Julia – the show’s first puppet with autism – will finally make her TV debut on April 10 in an episode called “Meet Julia”, having popped up in Sesame Street videos, books, apps and their website since 2015.
The Sesame Street crew are really excited about the new girl on the street. They explained that they were keen to create a character that embodied a selection of the characteristics of children with autism, depicting how things are “for Julia” as opposed to “for people with autism”.
Sesame Street screenwriter Christina Ferraro told Associated Press there was a lot of discussion and decisions to be made when it came to representing autism in a meaningful way.
“The big question was, ‘what do we talk about?’ because with autism there’s such a range and there’s so many different ways that autism affects people. There’s no way we could possibly show everything. There’s no way we could be symbolic of every kid that’s out there.”
Christina said the language they use when discussing Julia’s behaviour was approached with care, too.
“We had to pick one lane and go in it, and when we talk about it on the show, when Big Bird asks Alan ‘what’s autism?’, Alan answers, ‘well, for Julia, it’s this…'”
Julia will be a regular character on the show, Christina told CBS News, and hopefully a major character – like Elmo, Big Bird and Abby.
“I would love her to be. I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on “Sesame Street” who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia,”
What autism can look like
Puppeteer Stacey Gordon works Julia’s character and says this role could not be any more perfect for her.
“I’ve been preparing for Julia for my whole life!” Stacey explained.
“I have a son who has high-functioning autism and I want to do my best to bring Julia to the world in the best light possible. I come at this with a reverence. I don’t want to let the autism community down.”
Stacey said Julia’s character can help familiarise little viewers with some of the behaviours kids with autism might display.
“It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” Stacey told CBS News.
“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviours through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”
One clip released ahead of Julia’s offical TV debut shows Elmo talking about how he likes to play alongside Julia and noticing there are different ways friends can play together.
Another shows Julia flapping her arms and chatting to Abby Cadabby about their mutual love of butterflies (and flapping their arms!)
In another scene Muppets comment on Julia’s strengths:
“You’re lucky,” says Abby to Grover. “You have Julia on your team, and she is really good at finding shapes!”
Senior Vice President of the Sesame Workshop, Jeanette Betancourt, explains a little more about this great new character and how important she may prove to be.
“Julia is an amazing little character. She’s four years old. She’s not as verbal, but she expresses herself in different ways.”
“In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” Jeanette said.
“We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We’re modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share.”