‘Sesame Street’ has a new friend with autism

Sydney Ritter
Mesa Legend

Elmo and Abby are getting a new friend and her name is Julia. She’s the newest member of the Sesame Street characters who made her debut in April.  The 4-year-old-girl orange haired, green eyed girl is autistic. Julia was first introduced on Sesame Street digital and print books in 2015, and due to the enormous amount of positive feedback the character was made into a physical Muppet for the children’s show.

“I think this is really good that society is finally acknowledging that there are different types of people with different types of ability levels, and to see that it’s okay and that everyone is accepted,” Director of the Autism Academy Shannon Mitchell said. “This is a big step forward in that acceptance, that not all children are the same and there’s a variety.”

Julia’s puppeteer is Phoenix puppet artist Stacey Gordon. The Valley women is the proprietor of Puppet Pie in Downtown Phoenix on Grand Avenue, a business that designs puppets and teaches how to be a puppeteer. Gordon is also the mother of an autistic son.  According to the Sesame Street Workshop, the non-profit organization that produces several educational children’s program, including Sesame Street, Julia is as the type of kid who “does things a little differently” – a description used as a way to introduce her condition of Autism to the school-aged fans.

Autism has a wide spectrum, which is described as having different symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. The organization said Julia cannot possibly represent every child with autism, but Julia’s creators hope that she could bring up the bigger discussion in autism. The audience will see that Julia gets upset by loud noises such as sirens, sometimes repeats what others say and doesn’t adjust easily to meeting new people. The Workshop’s promotional video shows Julia coloring while Big Bird comes across the new friend and tries to welcome her with a cheerful demeanor.

But the new Muppet girl does not respond. The yellow feathered friend’s feelings are hurt and believes she’s ignoring him. Elmo and Abby come along to explain that Julia is autistic and what autism means. This is how she’s introduced to the public.  Among the other symptoms the show highlights through Julia is coping mechanisms. For example, the character has two sets of arms, one to communicate, the other she uses to “flap”.  These are used to help her calm down when she’s overwhelmed.

“Students who don’t have autism a lot of the times don’t know how to interact with autism because they don’t know the system,” Haley Lichen, a special education teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa, said. “They don’t know what to look for, what are the certain behaviors. So, I think having a character like that on the show, they’re more likely to approach students with autism and better understand the disability.”  Julia is the latest cast member added to the Sesame Street characters in a decade.

In their promotional announcement the Workshop said that it “hopes that her appearance will expose their audience to young children with autism and teach them about acceptance.” The launching of Julia coincides with Autism Awareness month which is throughout the month of April. The Mesa Legend was unable to obtain an interview with Stacey Gordon. Her public relations team did not return any of our emails and telephone messages.

Mesa Legend Staff

Mesa Legend Staff

Stories contributed by MCC journalism students. See end of each article for corresponding authors.
Mesa Legend Staff

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