Sesame Street’s New Autistic Character Is One Worth Meeting
‘’None of us are exactly the same’’ - that’s the message Julia’s appearance in the TV series is meant to convey.
American children’s TV series Sesame Street has been an audience favourite since the late 1960s, its diverse characters replete with messages that provide not just entertainment but educational content too. This month, Julia, the autistic Muppet, made her debut appearance in the series.
In a day and age when alternative narratives are crucial to every story being recounted, from movies to comic books, this can be viewed as a welcome step. Julia is introduced as someone who does things in a ‘’Julia sort of way’’.
She is seen painting with firm attention along with Abby the fairy and Elmo the monster.
When Big Bird walks in and later asks to see Julia’s painting, Alan, the owner of Hooper’s Store, explains to Big Bird that sometimes Julia ‘’takes a while to answer’’ and that ‘’it helps to ask again’’.
Later, Alan explains again that Julia has autism and that ‘’she likes people to know that’’. She might not always do what people expect or even answer right away.
The explanation manages to weave in everything required without overtly focusing on the message or preaching the content dry. The unity-in-diversity chord is struck right as Abby elucidates the fact that each one is their own person and that ‘’none of us are exactly the same’’.
When Big Bird tells Abby and Elmo that Julia is not like any friend he’s ever had before, Abby tells him that ‘’we are all different’’ in our own ways.
Whether it is a game of tag, a painting session or singing together, the narrative consistently illustrates the commonality in the characters– the fact that they are all different and yet manage to find things that keep them together.
Julia seems like any other girl, her traits highlighted as ones that make her who she is and not ones that alienate her from the others.
Julia is a part of the project ‘Sesame Street and Autism’ that seeks to raise awareness about the condition and help children as well as their parents understand it. And accordingly, the initiative aims to help in acceptance of autistic individuals.
Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organisation behind Sesame Street and seeks to ‘’help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder’’.
Julia first appeared in a Sesame Street online storybook in 2015. Explaining the idea behind the character, the author of the online storybook, Leslie Kimmelman, says, “So what’s the most important thing for people to know? We’re all different in some way or another—that’s what makes the world an interesting place. And equally, all of us in our own way are amazing!"
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