The gang over at Sesame Street has made clear over the years that everyone is invited to play, making inclusion a focal point in the message they send to viewers. This is why a new Muppet who happens to be on the autism spectrum and is named Julia will fit right in when she makes her television debut on the educational kid’s show.
The Chicago Tribune reports about how Sesame Street has worked hard to create the new Muppet and will soon introduce her to television audiences. Though Julia has been a member of the Sesame Street gang in print storybooks and on digital media for more than a year, on April 10th viewers will get a chance to see her introduced on the TV show.
The red-haired green eyed Muppet named Julia was thoughtfully created to give kids a better understanding of some of the challenges kids on the spectrum may face and what makes them unique from their peers who are not autistic.
Julia will model behaviors that are sometimes associated with kids on the spectrum like not responding when someone introduces themselves or having sensory issues when she hears loud noises. When Big Bird attempts to befriend Julia in one scene, she remains quiet while Abby explains to Big Bird, “She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.” Later when Julia hears a siren she looks very upset and covers her ears. Alan explains to Big Bird that she is okay but just needs to take a break.
Julia was in the making for literally years as Sesame Street staff consulted with both experts in the field of autism and families in the autistic community. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact, explains that the painstaking efforts were made in order to create an authentic character that can send a message of inclusivity to kids who probably know someone or will know someone on the spectrum. Betancourt says, “In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. 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.”
Finding the right puppeteer to play Julia was also a process that seems to have ended successfully. Former therapist for kids on the spectrum who later became a mom to an autistic son, Stacey Gordon, landed the role of a lifetime when Sesame Street chose her to be Julia. Gordon is happy Julia exists and wishes her son’s friends could have had a role model like her when they were growing up. She says, “The 'Meet Julia' episode is something that I wish my son's friends had been able to see when they were small. I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.”
What do you think of Sesame Street’s new TV muppet named Julia?
Do you think meeting Julia will be a helpful way for kids to better understand peers who may be on the autism spectrum?