Los Angeles Times
She’s the wide-eyed little Muppet with a big smile who has made it to “Sesame Street.”
Her name is Julia and she has autism.
Julia was first introduced in 2015, playing alongside Elmo and Abby Cadabby, as part of an online-only Digital Storybook story called “Sesame Street and Autism: See the Amazing in All Children.” Come April, kiddie viewers will be seeing more of Julia when she makes her transition to the live-action fold of the long-running children’s show, as revealed in a segment Sunday on “60 Minutes.”
Julia will make her debut on “Sesame Street,” whose first-run episodes are now shown on HBO, with a little help from her ol’ friends Elmo and Abby, who will introduce Julia to Big Bird. At first, Julia will be reluctant to shake the big yellow bird’s hand.
“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl spoke to Big Bird and Elmo (hey, who better to talk to than the Muppets themselves?) about helping adjust to how Julia reacts to situations.
“We had to explain to Big Bird that Julia likes Big Bird,” Elmo said. “It’s just that Julia has autism. So sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.”
The episode ends with the four Muppets learning to get along and eventually playing tag.
“It was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet her where she is,” said longtime “Sesame Street” writer Christine Ferraro.
The creative team behind “Sesame Street’s” newest addition worked with autism organizations to decide which characteristics Julia should have and how best to normalize autism for all children. Puppet designer Rollie Krewson told Stahl about the various details that went into creating the look of Julia, including a set of arms that can flap uncontrollably when Julia’s overwhelmed.
The team was also mindful that the character of Julia was not a “one size fits all.”
“It’s tricky, because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism,” said Ferraro. “There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’”
Julia’s puppeteer Stacey Gordon knows this herself, as her son has autism. She hopes having a character like Julia on “Sesame Street” will be meaningful for future generations. “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened,” she told “60 Minutes.” “They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”
Ferraro added: “I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on ‘Sesame Street’ who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.”
But maybe Julia said it best when Stahl asked if she was enjoying her new friends.
“Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun,” she replied.