She’s a happy wide-eyes Muppet and she’s made it onto Sesame Street for good. Her name is Julia and she’s the first Muppet who has autism.
Julia was previously introduced in 2015 and played alongside Elmo and Abby Cadabby as part of an online-only Digital storybook called Sesame Street and Autism: See the Amazing in all Children. Coming this April, children will get to see more of this character when Julia finally makes her transition into the live-action department of the long-running children’s show, as said in a segment Sunday on 60 Minutes.
Julia is the first Muppet with Autism
Julia will make her big debut on Sesame Street with a little bit of help from her old friends Elmo and Abby and they will introduce Julia to Big Bird. At first, Julia will be very reluctant about shaking the big yellow hand of Big Bird.
60 Minute correspondent Lesley Stahl spoke to the Muppets themselves, Elmo and Big Bird about how they’re going to help Julia adjust and how she’s going to react to the situation.
“We had to explain to Big Bird that Julia likes Big Bird,” Elmo said. “It’s just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
The episode finishes with the four Muppets playing with each other and getting along just fine.
“It was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet her where she is,” said longtime Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro.
The creative team behind the show worked hard on their newest addition. They got together with autism organizations to decide what characteristics would it be best for Julia to have and how it’ll normalize autism for all children. Puppet designer Rollie Krewson told Stahl about the many things that went into creating Julia herself, like including a set of arms that flail around uncontrollably when Julia gets overwhelmed.
They also made sure that Julia‘s character wasn’t a relatable one or a “one size fits all” type.
“It’s tricky, because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” said Ferraro. “There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’”
Julia’s puppeteer Stacey Gordon has a son who suffers from autism herself, so she knows this better than anyone. She hopes having a character like Julia on Sesame Street will be meaningful for future generations. “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,” she told 60 Minutes. “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.”
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.”
But maybe Julia said it best when Stahl asked if she was enjoying her new friends.
“Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun,” she replied.