Julia will appear on the children’s TV show for the first time in April, to raise awareness and celebrate differences of those who are diagnosed with autism.
Sesame Street is adding a new character to its ranks – a muppet called Julia, who has autism.
Julia, a four-year-old with bright orange hair, a pink dress and a favorite toy rabbit called Fluffster, will make her debut on 10 April in an episode called “Meet Julia”. She has already appeared in Sesame Street cartoons and books, but this will be her first appearance on the famous children’s show.
“We wanted to address autism in general because of the growing number of children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” Sherrie Westin, EVP of global social impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street, told the Guardian.
“We felt that creating a character who was autistic would allow children to identify her but equally important, it would allow us to model for all children the differences and commonalities of a child with autism.
“It was an opportunity to help explain autism and to help increase awareness and understanding.”
On Monday, Sesame Street released a number of video clips featuring Julia. One shows her sitting at a table, painting with some of the other characters. Big Bird arrives and says hello to Julia, who carries on with her work rather than saying hello back.
Big Bird and Sesame Street stalwart Elmo appeared on CBS’s 60 minutes on 17 March, to talk with host Lesley Stahl. Big Bird told Stahl he had initially been perturbed by Julia’s lack of response.
“I thought that maybe she didn’t like me,” Big Bird said.
“We had to explain to Big Bird that Julia likes Big Bird,” Elmo said. “It’s just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
Later in the episode – according to a clip seen by the Associated Press – Julia becomes distressed when a siren goes off.
“She needs to take a break,” the muppets’ human friend Alan calmly explains. Julia soon relaxes and the friends carry on playing.
Another video shows Elmo approaching Julia, who is playing with Fluffster on her own. Elmo sees that Julia is focused on her own activity and says: “We can play side by side, like we do sometimes.”
“There’s lots of ways to play,” Elmo tells the camera.
Julia’s introduction is part of an initiative: “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in all Children”. Sesame Workshop said it consulted with more than 250 organizations and experts over a five-year period, ahead of unveiling the character.
Julia is played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, who told the Associated Press her 13-year-old son also has autism.
“The ‘Meet Julia’ episode is something that I wish my son’s friends had been able to see when they were small,” Gordon said. “I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.”
Taken from the Guardian newspaper