Sesame Street has been a cornerstone for diversity and progressive ideas ever since it was premiered in November 1969 on American television. The show’s inclusive universe recently welcomed a new Muppet – her name is Julia, and she is autistic.
Julia is as enthusiastic as her Muppet friends in painting and playing games. She has her own way of doing things, though – she takes a while to answer questions, doesn’t make direct eye contact and often echoes what her friends say. She is also very sensitive to loud sounds.
The lack of intuition in social communication among autistic children is often misinterpreted as a sign of rudeness. In the episode Meet Julia, Sesame Street takes the effort of explaining why this happens, and encourages empathy and co-operation rather than pity.
In the section of the episode that has been posted on YouTube, Julia is seen painting with monster Elmo, fairy Abby Cadabby and Alan, the human owner of Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street.
Julia meets the friendly Muppet Big Bird, but she doesn’t react to his greeting and walks away. Big Bird’s assumptions about Julia are challenged by the other characters, who speak on behalf of her Julia and explain autism in a simple manner: “Even if someone is different from you, we can all be friends.”
Sesame Street has previously introduced Linda, a human character who teaches sign language, five-year-old Kami, the first HIV-positive Muppet, and Tarah, a nine-year-old girl with a genetic disorder.
Julia made her debut in a comic series called See Amazing in All Children. Stacy Gordon, the veteran puppeteer who brings life to Julia’s character, has an autistic son and has worked with similarly affected children in the past.