Sesame Street has announced they'll soon be introducing a brand new character to the infamous street: her name is Julia - she is the first Muppet to have autism.
Julia was first created in 2015, as a part of a digital storybook series called 'See the Amazing in all Children'. She appeared in the story 'Sesame Street and Autism', created by author Leslie Kimmelman, whose son has autism.
In the book, Elmo explains to Muppet Abby Cadabby that Julia does things a little bit differently - like taking a long time to answer questions, or getting flustered by loud sounds, or not speaking when she is doing other tasks - and that it's okay, because everyone is unique.
Now, two years later, it's been announced that Julia will be become a regular character on the iconic television show.
The storyline will reportedly be similar to the storybook - when Julia arrives, she's introduced by Elmo and Abby Cadabby. Julia is hesitant to shake Big Bird's hand when they meet, and Big Bird thinks she doesn't like him - Elmo then explains to Big Bird that Julia has autism, and "sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things".
The four friends then learn how to play together so they all have fun and feel comfortable.
Interestingly, after Julia's first appearance in 2015, a mother of a boy with autism wrote a piece for the New York Times, explaining that her son always thought that Fozzie Bear had autism. He apparently often displayed some common characteristics, such as interpreting figurative language as literal, monologuing, repeating himself long after situations have ended, and having difficulty analysing social cues. He also has a verbal tic, and cannot stand being seperated from his hat for no reason in particular.
However, Julia is the first to be confirmed as having autism. It's particularly significant that Julia is female - many autism researchers believe the condition is severely under-diagnosed in girls.
Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro spoke out about the new character, saying the team behind Julia were sensitive to the fact that autism is incredibly complex: "It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism". Ferraro told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, "I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on “Sesame Street” who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia."
"I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on “Sesame Street” who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia."
The puppeteer who plays Julia, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. She explained, "As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age."
Cathie Newby is a mother of four - three of her children, Blake, 11, Callum, aged nine, and Kobe, aged six, are all on the Autism Spectrum. She tells SBS, "I think the stigma behind disabilities such as autism is from lack of knowledge and education. Having characters [with autism] on a medium such as Sesame Street is wonderful because it is starting to normalise that everybody is different. We all have our little quirks that make us who we are."
"Having characters [with autism] on a medium such as Sesame Street is wonderful because it is starting to normalise that everybody is different. We all have our little quirks that make us who we are."
"[Autism] is the child in the supermarket having a meltdown because the size of the store [or] the amount of strangers around them is too much for them too process. The child at the beach who stays under a towel because the scenery is too much for them to take in. The child that wont touch fruit because they can't handle the texture or the colour. It is everyday people trying to get by day-to-day, like everyone else.
"Autism is not a set package that makes you the same as the next person with autism. It has many variations and levels from mild to extreme. There should be more awareness out there, not only to educate others, but to show the children with these disabilities that they are not alone. They are not strange or weird; they are normal. They [should be] accepted by society and treated like a normal person, because at the end of the day, that's all we want for our children and that's all they want for themselves."
Sesame Street's newest Muppet, Julia, will arrive to the famous neighbourhood in April this year.