The makers of Sesame Street, one of the most recognisable children’s programs in the world, has introduced its first ever ASD character.
Julia, who will play a muppet on the autism spectrum, was introduced after a long running stint on Sesame Street’s online Digital Storybook Series.
However, following her succesfull introduction in the digital series, Sesame Street producers decided it was time for Julia to have her TV debut – in the hopes of allowing children to understand how to interact with their fellow students, friends and acquaintances on the spectrum.
Julia’s introduction is also a fantastic way for children on the spectrum to identify with a character on the popular show.
Julia’s designers were mindful when it came to creating Julia, not wanting to label her the ‘definition’ of ASD or treat her as the “standard model” for everyone with the disorder.
Writer Christine Ferraro, explained the situation in an interview with 60 minutes, where she stated that: “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.
“There’s a saying that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
With its 1st Julia ep, Sesame Street hopes to deliver a message of inclusion. Elmo: We really like Julia. She’s really special to us.” pic.twitter.com/UpgbMQr1pt
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) March 20, 2017
The show’s creators consulted with organisations serving families who have children on the autism spectrum and discussed at length what was best to highlight, in order to help other children understand certain behaviour.
In Julia’s first episode, the show focusses on her reluctance to engage with Big Bird upon their first meeting, her sensitivity to overwhelming noises and her excitability during a game with the other characters.
But behind every good puppet, is a great puppeteer, and Julia’s has more of a connection with her puppet than most.
Stacey Gordon travelled all the way from Phoenix to audition for the part when she found out that Sesame Street would be introducing a character on the spectrum.
Gordon is the mother of a son with autism and as such she was ecstatic to hear that her son would be able to identify with a character in such a prominent space.
“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, is huge,” Gordon told Lesley Stahl of 60 minutes.
She said that she channeled her own son’s experiencing when acting out Julia’s sensitivity to noise that triggers a meltdown.
“It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like.
“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviours 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 OK.”
Gordon went on to say that one of the most touching scenes in Julia’s first episode was when the other characters adjusted their own behaviour to make Julia feel more included.
“They decide to play tag together. But Julia’s so excited that she’s jumping up and down. That’s a thing that can be typical of some kids with Autism.
“And then it turns into a game where they’re all jumping like her. So it was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet her where she is, and get something out it themselves.”
Lesley Stahl finished up the interview by asking Ferraro if Julia will become a major character.
“I would – I would love her to be. I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on “Sesame Street” who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.”