By Rebecca Cohen
For Unwind magazine
For the first time in over 10 years, Sesame Street is introducing a new character to its Muppet family.
Julia, the first ever autistic Muppet to be on air, will join the Sesame Street family this season, making a few guest appearances. She will become a more regular character in the next season.
Julia’s character originated in Sesame Street’s “See Amazing in All Children” campaign, during which she appeared in books and digital offerings that gave children with autism a character with whom they could identify. After the immense success of this campaign, the creators of the show decided she could positively impact these families on a much larger scale if they added her as a regular in the show.
The Sesame Street team’s main goal with this addition is to give autistic children and their families something more familiar, something with which they can identify, on such a mainstream form of media. It excites the kids to see there are other people like them, even if it is a Muppet. Autistic children rarely see a “star” to whom they can relate, so it makes the kids, who are so misunderstood at a young age, feel loved and important.
They are also hoping to educate others on this topic and show other children that having autism is okay. Since Sesame Street watchers are so young, they do not know what autism is, even if someone they know is autistic. This will teach those other kids all about autism and that being different is not necessarily a bad thing. Sesame Street wants to promote inclusion of all children, no matter who they are.
“This will make the autistic children feel much more accepted and understood,” said Julia Klein, an Applied Behavior Analyst who works with autistic children.
Julia is a 4-year-old Muppet who loves to draw and is infatuated with flowers. She often echoes what her friends on the show say, and other characters have to repeat themselves a few times for Julia to understand what they are trying to communicate to her. These actions portray common symptoms autistic children face day-to-day.
“I think it’s amazing and very important that they are doing this because in every general education classroom there is bound to be a child with special needs,” said Sara Beth Adler, a junior early childhood and special education major. “This new character will help children to understand that their friends may be different from them, but it’s okay to be different and important to treat everybody equally.”
After working with children in a student teaching job this semester, Adler thinks kids will be positively impacted by this character and the message she is sending.
Caroline Saltzman, a sophomore kinesiology major, hopes to work with autistic children in her future and is glad to see that Sesame Street is promoting inclusion and spreading awareness about disability in general.
“Kids should grow up being comfortable with the idea [of being different] and not being oblivious to disabilities,” Saltzman said.