‘Sesame Street’ Introduces First Autistic Character

New muppet Julia is part of the “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” campaign

Last Updated: October 21, 2015 @ 6:52 PM

“Sesame Street” is introducing its first autistic character to the longtime children’s show in an effort to destigmatize the disorder and reduce bullying.

With her big smile and bright orange hair, Julia is part of a new initiative called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” which includes a free app that uses storybooks, videos and other visual media to assist autistic kids and their families with their daily tasks.

In the storybook “We’re All Amazing, 1, 2, 3,” Julia explains to her pals Elmo and Abby why she plays a little differently than other kids.

“Families with autistic children tend to gravitate toward digital content, which is why we created Julia digitally,” Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impacts and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, told People Wednesday. “We want parents and children to understand that autism isn’t an uncomfortable topic.

“If you’re five years old, and see another kid not making eye contact with you, you may think that child doesn’t want to play with you. But that’s not the case,” she explained. “We want to create greater awareness and empathy.”

The author of the storybook, Leslie Kimmelman, has herself been personally touched by autism. “More than 20 years ago, my beautiful son received the diagnosis of autism, and my world changed instantly and profoundly,” she wrote. “I knew nothing about autism, and it seemed that those around me — even the professionals — didn’t know much either. Today, happily, that has changed.”

While there is now greater awareness, “it’s still a puzzle, and every child is affected differently,” she said.