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Since its start in 1969, “Sesame Street” has been synonymous with educational television. It is a program that taught us our ABCs and 123s and now, years later, is doing the same for our children. Through words, action and jingles, lessons about friendship, colors and even death have been, and continue to be, imparted through puppets and their people friends.
This spring, “Sesame Street” will keep the lessons coming when they officially introduce Julia, a Muppet who has been in development for several years. Julia, who has autism, is groundbreaking for “Sesame Street” and for television.
With autism rates in the United States sitting at one in 68 children, this character is sorely needed. Because, with numbers like these, the likelihood that kids will encounter a classmate or friend with autism is quite high. So, “Sesame Street” wanted to help.
Julia was first introduced as part of “Sesame Street’s” digital content, in the online storybook, “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.” Unsurprisingly, she was a big hit with parents.
Sherrie Westin, an executive vice president at Sesame Workshop, told NPR they created Julia to give children with autism, and their families, someone to identify with, and to give those unfamiliar with autism a window into their world.
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) March 20, 2017
“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,” said Westin.
For the puppeteer who is giving life to Julia, this step toward inclusion is deeply personal. Stacey Gordon is mom to an autistic son, and she sees the introduction of Julia as a beautiful thing.
“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened,” she told CBS 60 Minutes. “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.”
The range of behaviors associated with autistic children can be as varied as the children themselves. So, how will “Sesame Street” portray a character with the disorder? By giving Julia characteristics that best normalize autism for most kids.
To do this, show creators worked with autism organizations to recognize some of the most common autistic behaviors. Which means Julia may often repeat her friends, or take a little longer to respond. She will also experience noise sensitivity and flap her hands when she gets upset. But she will also be a great friend and a talented artist.
We can’t wait to watch Julia shine.