When Big Bird is introduced to new Sesame Street muppet “Julia”, he is confused when she ignores him. He begins to think to think that maybe she just didn’t like him, but the other muppets soon explain to him that “she just does things a little differently.”
During a 60 Minutes episode about the long-running children’s series, it was revealed that a character named Julia would soon be introduced to the show – and that she would have autism.
Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer behind Julia, has a big connection to the role due to having her own son with autism. When asked by 60 Minutes about what the idea of a character with autism would mean, she responded, “It means that our kids are important enough to be seen in society. Having Julia on the show and seeing all of the characters treat her with compassion…it’s huge.”
“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. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s okay.”
The writers for the show also spoke about their experiences creating such a character and bringing her to life. “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing – because it is different for every single person who has autism,” Christine Ferratro told the news crew.
This isn’t Sesame Street‘s first attempt at reducing the stigma of autism either. Four-year-old Julia was first introduced last year in a book by the group, and they even have a workshop, with an aim to “See Amazing in All Children” which provides online resources for parents and children to help understand the condition better.
For children with autism and their classmates alike, the introduction of Julia is groundbreaking. In the U.S., 1 in 68 children is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, making it more the likely that children will encounter a classmate with autism during their schooling. The Sesame Street website for the initiative states, “The lack of understanding about the condition can make life even more difficult for children with autism. A recent study reveals that they are five times more likely to be bullied than their peers—treatment no child should endure. While it’s true there can be significant differences between people with autism and their peers, all children want the same things: to feel safe, happy, and loved.”
Stacey Gordon added during her interview, “As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age.”
Julia makes her Sesame Street debut this April on HBO and PSB.