“Sesame Street” has added a new Muppet to its cast of characters — a little autistic girl named Julia.
In its 48-year history, the PBS children’s program began as an experiment to teach kids, and its introduction of Julia is just the latest example of its producers trying out new things.
The question was, how could they best portray autism.
“I think the big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'” veteran 25-year “Sesame Street” writer Christine Ferraro told CBS’s “60 Minutes” host Lesley Stahl. “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism. There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.'”
E! Online reported:
The focus on autism began as social impact projects, which included an online animated storybook about a girl named Julia. They became so popular that Rollie Krewson was asked to create a Muppet for Julia, whose design required more consideration than previous puppets. “When she gets upset, she flaps her hands, so she has two separate sets of arms,” he said. “…They would switch on set.”
Here’s an example of how the show portrayed Julia:
“60 Minutes” was on hand when Abby Cadabby and Elmo first introduced Big Bird to Julia. He was obviously confused when the little girl appeared oblivious to the giant, bright yellow bird. Who could miss that, right?
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) March 20, 2017
“Oh, hi Julia. I’m Big Bird. Nice to meet you,” Big Bird says. “Oh. Julia?”
Here’s another example where the four Muppets decided to play a game of tag.
“Julia’s so excited that she’s jumping up and down. That’s a thing that can be typical of some kids with autism,” Ferraro explained.
And instead of trying to make Julia conform to the other three, Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Big Bird join in on the fun Julia’s having.
“Then it turns into a game where they’re all jumping like her. So, it was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet her where she is.”
In this segment, Abby Cadabby and Julia sing “Sunny Days,” the show’s theme song.
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People on social media — especially parents of autistic children — were delighted with the concept.
— jack hourigan (@jackhourigan) March 20, 2017
— Nick Borg (@NickBorg63) March 20, 2017
@60Minutes thank you for showing us why we must support public TV! Watch & fall in love Sesame Street’s 1st autistic character Julia.
— Dr. Dood (@DrDood45) March 20, 2017
@60Minutes sharing news about Julia has put a smile on my face
— Tames (@24tames7) March 20, 2017
@CBSNews So beautiful to show all children are the same even with Autism
— Brenda Diazcruz (@BrendaDiazcruz2) March 20, 2017
President Donald Trump has been under fire for suggesting that taxpayer dollars should no longer support PBS. The announcement of his suggested budget has brought cries that he’s going to kill Big Bird.
But what his critics fail to understand is that subscribers will continue to fund public broadcasting, and HBO started airing “Sesame Street” last year.
In 2069 the children’s classic will no doubt be celebrating its 100th year.
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