Julia is a friendly face for children on the spectrum
“Sesame Street’s” newest resident has wide green eyes, fiery red hair – and autism.
Fans of the beloved 47-year-old children’s show will be meeting Julia, the series’ first Muppet on the spectrum, on April 10.
While Julia was first introduced in the 2015 digital storybook, “Autism: See the Amazing in All Children” on a playdate with Elmo and Abby Cadabby, she’s now being bumped up to more regular status to make the HBO and PBS educational program even more inclusive to all kids.
It’s a mindful move, considering more than 1 in 68 U.S. children is diagnosed with autism, which costs their families an average $60,000 in medical costs each year.
“Sesame Street” stars Big Bird and Elmo gave “60 Minutes” the scoop on Sunday night with a clip that showed Julia being unresponsive when Big Bird first introduces himself and tries to shake her hand.
“We had to explain to Big Bird that Julia likes Big Bird,” explained Elmo. “It’s just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
Julia is also seen putting her hands over her ears when a loud noise overwhelms her. The puppet was crafted with expressive eyes that can open and close when she needs to take a minute to calm down, as well as arms that can flail up and down when she gets alarmed.
But “Sesame Street” also shows the other kids accepting Julia, and playing a game of tag together.
“Sesame Street’s” creative team has worked to portray Julia’s condition with sensitivity over the past five years by consulting with more than 250 autism organizations, educators and families with children on the spectrum. “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” series writer Christine Ferraro said.
And Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer who brings Julia to life, has a son with autism herself. She says Julia is a game-changer.
“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,” she said. “They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”
Ferraro added, “I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on ‘Sesame Street’ who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.”
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