esame Street has been on the air now for almost fifty years, and they've done a tremendous amount of work to bring education to children about everything from the ABCs and 123s to race and death.
In a few weeks, Sesame Street will take on its latest challenge: introducing a new kid on the street, a Muppet named Julia, who has autism.
Having a character that exhibits common traits of autism on the longest running and best-loved children’s television is an enormous step.
Sesame Street has always based its characters and content on extensive research and they regularly bring in educators and child psychologists.
In the case of Julia, they also worked with autism organizations to decide which characteristics she should have and how best to normalize autism for all children.
“This is a significant step in improving public understanding of autism, and making people on the autism spectrum feel more accepted,” Mark Lever, CEO of the National Autistic Society said. “Almost everyone has heard of autism now. But a much smaller number of people understand what it actually means to be autistic, the difficulties autistic people can face – and their strengths too.”
In a scene introducing Julia to Big Bird, Elmo takes it upon himself to explain why she does not at first respond to a greeting as expected.
Julia also exhibits other traits, including moving her arms around when she is upset and finding it hard to cope with too much noise.
In another scene, during a game of tag, Julia starts jumping up and down with excitement — the rest of the muppets join in, and just like that the game is changed to suit Julia in a natural way.
Rather than her differences being the source of confusion or fear, the rest of the muppets just get on with the relationship and get down to the important stuff: having fun.
You can check out a clip from the show here:
“Some of the biggest leaps forward in understanding of autism have happened because of films, books and TV shows, like The A Word and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Lever said. “We hope that Julia, the Sesame Street character, will have a similar effect and inspire other writers and film-makers to reflect the diversity of the autism spectrum in their work.”