“Sesame Street” has broadcasted the welcoming of a new character, an autistic girl named Julia. The first episode, with the newest Muppet, will be titled, “Meet Julia.” It is set to air on Monday, April 10, 2017, on HBO and PBS Kids.
The big announcement came on a “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday, March 19. Correspondent, Leslie Stahl, spoke with Rollie Krewson, the designer of the newest “Sesame Street” member. Specifically, Krewson detailed how the character took years of study and research to develop.
‘Sesame Street’ Thoughtfully Created Julia
The friendly street is all about acceptance and diversity. Accordingly, it is with great pride, after years of development, that “Sesame Street” welcomes its first autistic character, becoming an advocate for those with autism. Bringing Julia into the mix, the show hopes to bring more understanding and acceptance to those who are autistic.
The efforts to create Julia took many years of research, consulting with experts, organizations, and autistic-affected families, as noted by Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact. Christine Ferraro, a show writer, explained to “60 Minutes,” that learning about autism is tricky, since it affects each person with an autism diagnosis a different way.
What was learned, was that one out of 68 children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of some sort of autism. Hence, Betancourt explained that “Sesame Street” wanted to create a character to allow for a teaching moment that will permit people to understand autism. In line with the character, the program hopes to provide information to lessen any negativity surrounding children with autism.
The idea is to incorporate Julia with the other characters on “Sesame Street,” to show that even though there are differences, there are still things that all have in common. With that in mind, Julia is being played by someone with an expertise in children with autism. The red-haired Muppet’s puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, is a mother of an autistic child and worked as a therapist with autistic children.
When Gordon first heard about the “Sesame Street” autistic character, over a year ago, she stated emphatically, “If she’s ever a puppet, I want to BE Julia!” At the time, Gordon had been working as a puppeteer in Phoenix, performing, teaching, and selling her own puppet creations.
‘Sesame Street’ Introduces Julia to Members on the Street
Julia may be new to TV, but as her character was researched and developed, the friendly street welcomed their first autistic character in the book, “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!,” released in October 2015. Since, the cute Muppet has been the star of her own videos, an app, and a “Sesame Street” website geared to learning about autism.
Now, the colorful street gang of fuzzy characters welcomes their first new Muppet friend in 12 years. Julia comes on the scene as a cute little red-haired girl with lovely green eyes. She quickly becomes part of the gang, making friends and playing games with the others. Accordingly, her autism does not make Julia seem as different, but unique as her own person, just as the rest of those who reside in the neighborhood.
“Sesame Street” welcomes the first autistic character expertly in the episode. Julia is seen playing with the 3-year-old fairy, Abby, and happy Elmo. Big Bird walks up to the trio, hoping to gain a new friend. Duly, in keeping with the characteristics of an autistic person, Julia does not respond to him. “Sesame Street” explains her indifference through Abby, with the Muppet toddler stating, “She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.”
In response, Julia gives a little laugh as she shows her new friends her own way of playing the game of tag. In keeping with autistic behaviors, Julia is seen getting agitated when a siren screams out, guarding herself against the sound by covering her ears. Big Bird’s human friend, Alan, explains to all that Julia just needed a break. In a snap, the incident is forgotten and play is started once again.
By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Associated Press: A Muppet with Autism to be Welcomed Soon on ‘Sesame Street’
Slate, Browbeat: Sesame Street Will Introduce Its First Character With Autism in April
CBS News: How “Sesame Street” Created Julia, the New Muppet with Autism
NPR: Julia, A Muppet With Autism, Joins The Cast Of ‘Sesame Street’
Featured and Top Photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah Wolff-Diaz Courtesy of Wikimedia – Public Domain License