After nearly half a century on air, “Sesame Street” is adding its first character with autism. Her name is Julia, she’s 4 years old, and she will make her TV debut on HBO and PBS in April.
The puppeteer behind Julia, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. When “60 Minutes” host Lesley Stahl asked what Julia’s character means to her and other parents with autistic children, Gordon replied: “It means that our kids are important enough to be seen in society, because they are everywhere…. 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.”
A 2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 68 children in the U.S. (one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls) have autism spectrum disorder.
According to the Huffington Post, the show’s creators consulted with autism experts and educators to discuss which characteristics to highlight. Julia has hypersensitivity to noise, is easily excitable and hesitates to shake Big Bird’s hand when they first meet.
When Gordon’s son met Julia for the first time on “60 Minutes,” it was a decidedly magical moment. Stahl asked Gordon’s son what he thinks Julia will mean to kids with autism, to which he replied: “I think it’ll mean that they’ll be able to feel better about themselves. They’ll be able to say, 'Oh, someone like me is on TV.’”
Media and television have the power to influence our perceptions, and the producers of “Sesame Street” are no doubt doing their part to make autism less of a stigma for children and parents alike.
Erin has made telling stories about food her profession. You can find those stories in Food & Wine, LA Weekly, Serious Eats, KCET, Robb Report and First We Feast.
What Do YOU Think?
Will Julia help children better comprehend their playmates with autism? Will children with autism identify with Julia?