Meet Julia. She is the new friend on Sesame Street, who is 4 years old, orange, smiley, curious and loves to play. She loves singing and she has autism. She’ll be making her television debut in an upcoming episode of Sesame Street, now in it’s 47th season.
Julia was first introduced in 2015, playing alongside Elmo and Abby Cadabby, as part of an online-only Digital Storybook story called Sesame Street and Autism: See the Amazing in All Children. Now Julia has been brought to life as a muppet in the upcoming ‘Meet Julia’ episode.
The puppeteer who plays Julia, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism and, before she started her family, was a therapist to children on the spectrum.
“The Meet Julia episode is something that I wish my son’s friends had been able to see when they were small,” Ms Gordon said.
“It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” she told 60 Minutes. “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.”
“I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.”
She’s not as verbal and she expresses herself in different ways. Through a spirit of friendship and acceptance Sesame Street shows how they all have things in common, for example, they all like to sing.
Julia does some things a little differently; for example, upon her introduction to Big Bird, she doesn’t make eye contact or speak, but rather continues to colour in.
“I thought that maybe she didn’t like me,” Big Bird explained on the US 60 Minutes’ recent story about Sesame Street’s newest character.
Elmo was quick to chime in: “Yeah, but you know, we had to explain to Big Bird that Julia likes Big Bird. It’s just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
Abby described her as, “She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.”
Through scenarios like this which children may encounter themselves, Sesame Street hopes to promote understanding about autism to a new generation.
“The big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?’” Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told 60 Minutes. “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
The team was mindful that the character of Julia was not a stereotyping “one size fits all.”
“It’s tricky, because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” said Ferraro. “There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.'”
When a group of children decide to play tag together, Julia becomes so excited she starts jumping up and down.
“That’s a thing that can be typical of some kids with autism,” Ferarro said. But the situation turns into a new game in which all the children jump around with Julia.
“So it was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation, they can meet her where she is,” Ferraro said.
Although it’s not confirmed whether Julia will become a major character, “I would love her to be,” Ferarro said, adding, “I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on Sesame Street who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.”
Photo credit: Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop
For more information and all enquiries please visit the Sesame Street website here.
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