Meet Julia, the newest cast member on the long-running children’s show “Sesame Street.” She’s a muppet, naturally. She’s got yellow felt skin, green eyes and orange hair. She also has autism.
Julia is a first in the nearly 50-year history of the show, which has been found to have a profound educational impact on children. While “Sesame Street” has dealt with complex issues in the past — death, HIV/AIDS, divorce and incarcerated parents — it has never had a character with a developmental disability, per CBS.
As Vulture reports, Julia will be familiar to some fans of the show. In 2015, she appeared in a “Digital Storybook” alongside classic characters like Elmo and Abby. Now, however, she will appear as a muppet and featured star on TV for the first time.
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The show’s creators hope that Julia will boost awareness and compassion so that, “when [children] encounter [people with disabilities] in their real life it's familiar. And they see that these — these can be their friends too,” writer Christine Ferraro told CBS.
In creating the character, Ferraro and the show’s other writers consulted with autism advocacy organizations in order to ensure they were properly and respectfully portraying the condition.
“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” Ferraro told CBS. “There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’”
When Julia is first introduced by Elmo to Big Bird on the show, she will be reluctant to shake his hand. Elmo will then explain that “sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.” Later on, Julia will be jumping up and down, too excited to play tag, and the other characters will instead change their game to join her.
“It was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet (Julia) where she is,” Ferraro said. “And get something out of it themselves.”
The puppeteer who will control Julia’s actions, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. She told CBS she thinks the character would have been helpful for her own child and his peers when he was growing up.
“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 said. “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.”