Educational kids’ TV institution Sesame Street – known for colourful inhabitants like Big Bird, the Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch – is introducing a new puppet with autism.
Called Julia, the character with orange hair and a toy rabbit will debut on the US show in April.
How will Sesame Street’s makers portray the autistic child? Well, in her first episode Big Bird will try to introduce himself to Julia, but the new character won’t respond to him. At first the giant yellow bird thinks “maybe she didn’t like me”, but the other puppets reassure him that Julia “does things just a little differently.”
Later on in the episode, another character, Abby, invites Julia for a game of tag. After Julia starts excitedly jumping up and down on the spot, Abby then adapts this into their game.
And although Julia already appears in the show’s digital and printed storybooks, the Sesame Street makers found it a challenge to adapt the character to screen, considering the sensitive subject matter.
“The big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'” Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told the CBS News show 60 Minutes.
“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
The introduction of the new character has been praised by autism support networks in the UK. Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said:
“We’re really pleased to see a popular TV show like Sesame Street introducing an autistic character. This is a significant step in improving public understanding of autism, and making people on the autism spectrum feel more accepted.”
“Some of the biggest leaps forward in understanding of autism have happened because of films, books and TV shows, like The A Word and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We hope that Julia, the Sesame Street character, will have a similar effect and inspire other writers and film-makers to reflect the diversity of the autism spectrum in their work.”