Julia is a bright, happy 4-year-old who happens to be on the autism spectrum
In April, the classic children’s television program Sesame Street is introducing its first new permanent character in 10 years. Julia is a lovable 4-year-old muppet with bright red hair and striking green eyes who likes to draw, pick flowers, and sing. She is also less verbal than the other muppets (when she does speak, she often repeats what one of her friends just said), and she prefers to play side-by-side rather than facing her friends. Julia has autism—and she is the first regular or recurring character to have autism on a children’s program.
The Benefits of Media Depictions of Children with Autism
There is overwhelming evidence that including minority characters and characters with special needs in literature, television programming, and film is beneficial in two ways, particularly if those portrayals are realistic and sensitive.
First, a character with autism, like Julia, gives children on the autism spectrum someone to identify with and relate to, which is an important step in any child’s development. Just as importantly, reading or seeing stories about others has been proven to increase empathetic intelligence and imagination. Depicting a kid with autism on a popular children’s show will give other children a window into the world of ASD, modeling good interactions and teaching them how to understand these kinds of differences.
While teen and adult programming has included regular and recurring characters who are on the autism spectrum for years, Julia will be the first regular character with ASD on a children’s program. We are so thrilled to see this inclusion, since childhood is the perfect time to model difference, encourage empathy, and help children practice interacting with others in all walks of life.
Other Sesame Street Resources for Families Caring for a Child With Autism
The character of Julia was first created for a storybook and then developed in the Sesame Workshop with the goal of adding her to the permanent cast. Even more exciting than the inclusion of Julia in the Sesame Street cast is the additional resources and initiatives that the Sesame Workshop has created for parents, siblings, and other family members and friends.
In conjunction with their new character, Sesame Workshop has released a two-pronged campaign: “See Amazing In All Children” The new website has resources for parents and children with autism, such as Daily Routine Cards and a Storybook that introduces Julia and explains her differences. There is also an extensive library of short videos about autism that use your kid’s favorite Muppets to tackle all kinds of issues, such as repetitive behaviors and touch sensitivity. Finally, there is a place for parents in the autism community to share their stories and a number of downloadable guides—our favorites are the Sibling Guide and the Provider Guide.
We hope that parents are as excited about this new Sesame Street character as we are, and that they will take advantage of all of the resources that the Sesame Workshop has developed. If you feel that your child needs help controlling self-destructive or other maladaptive behaviors associated with autism, reach out to the caring, professional staff at Springbrook for a consultation.