In October 2015, the longest-running educational show for young kids announced that it was introducing a new character for its digital and printed storybooks. Her name is Julia, and she's a Muppet who has autism. Starting this April, Julia will also be joining Sesame Street -- yes, the TV show -- as part of the nonprofit television workshop's commitment to autism awareness.
"We realized if we brought her to life appearing in Sesame Street on air as well, she would have even more impact [and] be able to reach even more children," Sherrie Westin, an executive vice president at Sesame Workshop who oversaw the See Amazing in All Children initiative, told NPR.
Research has proven that TV shows can help educate kids, and Sesame Workshop's See Amazing in All Children initiative aims to educate other people as well and help them understand autism better by showing how people affected with it manage everyday activities, and by finding ways to interact with them positively. Julia’s TV debut paves the way to explaining the condition to young viewers.
Sesame Street has always been in consultation with educators and child psychologists about the show's characters, and bringing in Julia was no different. They also worked with autism organizations such as theAutism Society of America to decide which characteristics she should have and how best to normalize autism for all children.
Julia, a ginger-haired four-year-old girl, has amazing drawing skills and likes picking flowers. She's a bit shy, loves her toy rabbit, but her dialogue consists of mostly repeating what the other characters say. Big Bird had a hard time getting her attention that at first he thought she didn’t like him.
On bringing her character to life for TV, veteran Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told CBS News, "It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism. There is an expression that goes, 'If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism'." She wants other kids to see the different facets of Julia “so that when they encounter [people with autism] in their real life, it’s familiar. And they see that [they] can be their friends too," Ferraro added.
In the first clips released by Sesame Workshop, Julia is seen interacting with Abby Cadabby, the three-year-old fairy, both of them imitating a butterfly (some children with autism love to flap their hands).