Julia is the newest muppet on Sesame Street; she's 4 years old and has autism.
This past Sunday, Sesame Street introduced their newest muppet, who will appear in her first show in April: a 4-year-old girl named Julia who has autism. Writer Christine Ferraro appeared on 60 minutes to talk with Lesley Stahl about Julia and what her presence on the show will teach young viewers.
Julia’s character isn’t actually entirely new; she’s currently a character in Sesame Street’s digital storybooks and was so popular that producers decided to include her on the TV series. Though she is already established online, writers behind the TV show grappled with how to bring her to life.
?It?s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” Ferraro told ?60 Minutes.? ?There?s a saying that if you?ve met one person with autism, you?ve met one person with autism.?
The show collaborated with organizations serving families with autism in order to consult those familiar with the disorder and to choose which behaviors Julia would exhibit. Since each?person with autism has a different experience, it’s tough because Julia isn’t necessarily representative of the entire spectrum, but she’s part of Sesame Workshop’s overall autism initiative.
Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit organization that puts on Sesame Street and they announced on Monday that they would be releasing more material that included autism, including ebooks, videos and books that will be available in both English and Spanish.
?We wanted to demonstrate some of the characteristics of autism in a positive way,? Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop?s vice president of outreach and educational practices, said in a 2015 interview after Julia was first unveiled online.
They chose to make Julia a girl to combat the huge misconception that males are the only ones affected by autism. Among the traits that Julia has are sensitivities to sound, a love of singing and an ability to memorize lyrics better than her peers, a proclivity for her stuffed bunny, and difficulty interacting with peers when first meeting them.
In one scene that was released, Julia ignores Big Bird, who then says that he thought she didn’t like him because she ignored him. Elmo goes on to explain that Julia does like Big Bird, but that her autism causes her to take longer in doing things, like acknowledge her friends. Julia also expressed her extreme dislike?of siren sounds, which are too loud for her, and she sings with her friends.?Ferraro expressed her hopes for Julia in the future:
“I would love her to not be Julia, the kid on Sesame Street has autism. I would like her to just be Julia.”
Sesame Street is no stranger to dealing with real-life scenarios and teaching viewers lessons to better equip them for life’s challenges. When one of their beloved human characters died, they didn’t replace him with someone else and hope children?didn’t notice. They addressed his death because they knew children would one day face a similar tragedy, so by addressing it they hoped to make it easier on children who did experience this.
Julia’s puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, actually has a son that has autism and agrees with Sesame Street’s approach for inclusion through introduction and acceptance. Her only regret is that she wished that Julia existed when her own son was around the “Sesame Street age.”
?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,? Gordon told ?60 Minutes.? ?And [they] would have known that he plays in a different way, and that that?s okay.?
Sesame Street continues to be a pioneer for TV education for kids, as the show has been running for nearly 50 years and it usually the first to adopt characters and themes that other shows find uncomfortable. The show is a great program for parents that want their children to learn inclusion, acceptance, and kindness through entertainment. Julia will appear in her first episode, “Meet Julia,” on April 10.
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