“Sesame Street” is known for educating kids about things such as numbers, but now it’s teaching them about autism by introducing Julia, a Muppet with autism.
According to a “60 Minutes” report, which visits the set, Julia’s television debut includes her meeting Big Bird for the first time. At first, she doesn’t respond to Big Bird’s greeting, which confuses him.
“I thought that maybe she didn’t like me,” he says.
That’s when Elmo explains that Julia has autism, so “sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
Julia also possesses other characteristics common in children with autism. She jumps up and down when she’s excited and gets overwhelmed by sounds and other stimuli. She also loves singing “and can remember all the words to a lot of songs,” according to her one of her introductory videos on YouTube.
Julia was introduced last year digitally in an animated storybook, but will premiere on TV April 10 as part of Sesame Workshop’s autism initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, which seeks to “increase acceptance and provide more tools for families impacted by autism.”
According to a statement, Sesame Workshop met with over 250 autism organizations and experts over the last five years. Julia’s puppeteer, Stacy Gordon, has a son with autism.
“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.”
The key was to depict a character that has autism, but isn’t defined by the stereotypes the media often portrays (think “Rain Man” or “The Accountant”). Writers also wanted to note that not every person with autism is the same.
“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” “Sesame Street” writer Christine Ferraro told “60 Minutes.” “There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.'”
There are a number of other shorts about Julia you can watch on “Sesame Street’s” YouTube page.