Julia is four, loves to play and sing, and is the newest member of Sesame Street. Julia also has autism, and her inclusion in the Sesame Street gang is breaking barriers for autism awareness and inclusion in children’s television.
First seen in the Sesame Street storybooks, Julia’s popularity was so overwhelming that the decision was made that she would make her grand debut on the show as just another kid on the block, who loves her stuffed bunny and playing in her own way with the other characters.
In her introduction, Big Bird is confused and a little upset because Julia won’t react, and thinks she doesn’t like them. It takes Elmo to explain that Julia’s autism means that it takes a little longer for her to interact, and a lesson is born in not only autism awareness, but inclusion.
Julia has a hard time keeping eye contact, and has sensory issues, especially to loud noises, and she flaps her hands when she’s excited. She also has an excellent memory and great drawing skills, all explained in her debut “See Amazing In All Children,” Sesame Street‘s autism awareness initiative. Everyone on the street loves Julia, and audiences did too, prompting the Children’s Television Workshop to make her the first new character since 2010.
Teaching neuro-typical children how to interact with kids with autism is just another “real life” inclusion that Sesame Street is known for. From the classic episodes on, real scenarios have been introduced to the show, starting with the classic episode from the early 80s where Mr. Hooper, the beloved shopkeeper, died in real life, and instead of quietly exiting the character, Sesame Street decided that teaching children about death was important, and that episode was celebrated (and cried over) for its gentle, yet very real explanation of death in a way that children could understand.
Julia’s introduction is of course, something to be celebrated, as she is loved and cared for not in spite of her differences but because of them, as seen below in a scene with Abby. Abby interacts with Julia in attempting to understand what Julia wants to play, despite her limited speech. When she flaps her hands, Abby flaps her wings, and they end up bonding over “playing butterflies.”
What may seem to the neuro-typical like a simple sketch, the inclusion of Julia is truly something to be celebrated. Her acceptance into the gang and the others learning about her, and autism, bridges a gap that is a long time coming in children’s television.
Julia’s debut on PBS and HBO’s Sesame Street can be seen on April 10.