Meet the New Sesame Street Resident Who Has Autism

Last updated on April 10th, 2017 at 06:41 pm

There’s a new resident Muppet on Sesame Street. Her name is Julia and she has autism. Julia exhibits some of the many symptoms of autism; she doesn’t always respond to the other characters, she repeats words, she gets overwhelmed with sensory input and sometimes she flaps her hands. Elmo and the other Muppets find ways to play with Julia, even incorporating her behaviors into their games. The show hopes that the new character will help teach acceptance and understanding about autism and eventually will no longer be “Julia the character with autism” but simply Julia.

Kids who have never interacted with a child with autism might react negatively if they see someone on the playground or at school exhibiting any of Julia’s behaviors, but the show hopes that the new character will expose kids to these actions and also model acceptance of people with differences. Just as Sesame Street aimed to bring preschool into the homes of children who might not have access to it, now the show will bring exposure to autism into the homes of families who might not have someone on the spectrum in their family. Parents can talk about the show with their kids, pointing out the ways Julia is like the other Muppets as well as the ways she is different.

Here are some discussion ideas:

  • If you see someone holding their ears because there is a loud sound, how can you help them feel more comfortable? Could you offer them a set of headphones, or ask others around you to whisper? Do you think they will hold their ears forever, or if you wait a while do you think they will stop?
  • Julia really likes her toy. What’s your favorite toy? Do you ever bring it anywhere with you?
  • Julia really likes to draw, and she is a very talented artist. What do you like to do?
  • If you see someone flapping their hands, what would you do? Does it hurt you if they flap their hands? Of course not, so why do you care if they do it? Maybe it’s fun! Maybe it means they are happy or excited. How do you move your body when you are happy? Excited?

Julia’s puppeteer is the mother of a child with autism. Stacey Gordon hopes the character will help kids with autism avoid some of the exclusion and discomfort her child and his classmates experienced growing up.

Julia has appeared in Sesame Workshop’s online stories and resources but now she is a fully realized Muppet on the PBS and HBO show.. The crew uses a separate set of arms for the scenes when Julia will be flapping her hands. Julia’s episode will debut on April 10, 2017.

You can read NPR’s coverage of the new Muppet here or watch Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes segment here.

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner. She can be reached at rosie327@aol.com.Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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