“Sesame Street” will introduce a new character to the show: Julia, a Muppet who has autism.
Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) March 20, 2017
Julia has been featured in print and digital storybooks, as well as videos and an online app, as part of the Sesame Workshop initiative “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.”
The response to Julia was “extraordinary,” according to Sherrie Westin, EVP of global impact and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop.
“Bringing Julia to life as a Sesame Street Muppet is the centerpiece of all of our new materials to support families of children with autism,” Westin said. “The response from the autism community to’See Amazing in all Children’has been extraordinary, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of autism, as part of our mission of helping all children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.”
According to the National Autism Association, autism is the fastest growing and most underfunded developmental disorder. It affects 1 in 68 children, with boys four times more likely than girls to be affected. An estimated 40 percent of children with autism are nonverbal. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of autistic children may have some verbal skills between the ages of one and one-and-a-half but eventually lose them. And some may eventually speak later in childhood. Autism does not affect any two people in the same way.
Sesame Workshop has been developing “See Amazing in All Children” for over five years and has worked with more than 250 organizations and experts on autism, as well as parents, people with autism and those who serve in the autism community.
Rose Jochum, director of internal initiatives for the Autism Society (one of the groups consulted by Sesame Workshop), said it was “meaningful” to see Julia among the other characters.
“The character Julia, she has wonderful drawing skills. She’s like a little budding artist,” Jochum said to NPR. “You know autism it brings wonderful gifts.”
Julia will be played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon. The topic personally affects Gordon, who has a son on the autism spectrum.
“I really wish that kids in my son’s class had grown up with a ‘Sesame Street’ that had modeling [of] the behavior of inclusion of characters with autism,” she said.
“One of my favorite stories is a mother who said that she used the book to explain to her child that she had autism like Julia,” Westin recalled to NPR. “Wow, the fact that this became the tool for her to have the conversation with her five-year-old daughter. And you’ll love this. At the end her daughter said, ‘So I’m amazing too, right'”
“Sesame Street” has been no stranger to addressing sensitive and sometimes difficult topics in its episodes. According to Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of U.S. social impact for the Sesame Workshop, autism is a topic families have been asking to be featured on the show for a long time.
“For years, families of children with autism have asked us to address the issue. We heard a call to use our expertise and characters to build a bridge between the autism and neurotypical communities,” Betancourt said. “So many partners, advisors, and organizations have contributed to the success of this initiative, and we are thrilled to have the benefit of this collaboration as we launch this latest chapter.”
Julia will be introduced in a special “Meet Julia” episode on April 10 in time for World Autism Month in April on HBO, PBS KIDS, YouTube and www.sesamestreet.org/autism.