In early April, beloved children’s show Sesame Street will debut Julia, the program’s first character with autism. Julia has been part of the online interactive Sesame Street family since last year, and her popularity among viewers prompted show creators to bring the character to television. The Sesame Street team hopes Julia will help children become more comfortable and familiar with the condition.
Julia will make her debut on Sesame on April 10, Quartz reported; the show's creators hope her appearance will help young viewers better understand the symptoms of the condition, and how to support ASD individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in 68 children have ASD.
“I think the big discussion right at the start was, 'How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'" one of the show's writers, Christine Ferraro, told "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl, CNN reported.
The team at Sesame Street worked with 250 autism organizations and experts and child psychologists to develop Julia, and have instilled the character with many characteristic traits of ASD children. For example, when Julia first meets Big Bird, she ignores him but Elmo helpfully explains that since Julia has autism, “sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things,” Quartz reported. In addition, when the group plays a game of tag, Julia responds by flapping her arms. The other characters do not make fun of Julia for this odd reaction, but rather make it a part of their game.
Even the decision to make Julia a female character rather than a male character was part of a well thought-out process, as the Sesame Street team wanted to highlight the idea that ASD may be underdiagnosed in girls.