Sesame Street has a new Muppet character named Julia! She is incredibly unique because of her red hair and love for painting, but also for being the first Muppet with autism. Christine Ferraro has been a writer for Sesame Street since 1994 and created Julia with the help of educators, child psychologists and autism organizations.
The goal of Julia is to educate children about autism because more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. live with an autism spectrum disorder. Children will likely encounter someone with autism at some point in their life. Julia gives children some background about autism and allows them to be more accepting. Also she gives children with autism someone on television to relate to.
Another incredible thing about Julia is her puppeteer, Stacy Gordon. Gordon auditioned specifically for the part of Julia because her son has autism. In an interview with Lesley Stahl, Stahl asked what Julia coming to the show meant to Stacy and she said, “It means that our kids are important enough to be seen in society.” Gordon wishes there was an influential and educational character like Julia when her son was younger. “If there was then the other children in his class would understand him better and know that reacts differently to things than other children.”
One scene expresses how Julia reacts to noise. Her hearing is very sensitive, so when sirens go off she responds by covering her ears and repeating the word “noise” over and over again. Elmo and Abby Cadabby are a little confused, but stay with Julia trying to understand and help her. This scene will teach children that some children with Autism in school can act differently to fire alarms and other loud noises. The hope is for kids to become more accepting. Another example is after they decide to play tag, Julia starts bouncing up and down with excitement. Abby and Elmo then start bouncing too and play “boing” tag. Rather than question or ridicule Julia, they join her! They have a lot of fun together and it’s all thanks to Julia.
Another reason behind the creation of Julia, is that autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys. It’s important people become more accepting and educated because of the increasing rate of autism. Children will grow up knowing someone with autism: Julia.
The way Sesame Street introduces different people to children is what makes it most successful. For example, the character Aristotle is blind and explains how he is able to read the book “Little Red Riding Hood” by touching the bumps on the page. This introduces the idea of braille and normalizing blind people to children who may have never encountered someone who is blind or had any knowledge about how they are able to do things. Another example is Tarah Schaeffer. She joined the cast of Sesame Street as a way to introduce disabilities to children. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta; This causes her to have brittle bones, making her prone to fractures. The Sesame Workshop Newsletter stated, “Tarah proves over and over again that all kids like to play, laugh, learn, and have fun!”
Julia is soon going to be one of these examples of a character who allows children to get education and feel comfortable around someone who is a little different from them! Who else is next to come join Sesame Street?