By Jasmine Venegas
For the first time in a decade, “Sesame Street” is introducing a new character to the set. Her name is Julia, a four-year old girl with orange hair, a close attachment to her stuffed rabbit, and autism.
According to CNN, Julia was first introduced to “Sesame Street” in the storybook entitled, “We’re Amazing, 1,2,3!” She became so popular that it was decided to make her part of the TV series in April.
The author of the book, Leslie Kimmelman, has a son that was diagnosed with autism. According to the Sesame Street website, at first she did not have a clue but as she became more aware she decided to write a book.
“In the US, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of “Sesame Street” said to CBS news, “[so] we wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children.”
According to CBS News, the show has always based its characters on extensive research since they frequently meet with educators and child psychologists.
In Julia’s case, the creators worked with autism organizations in order to decide the characteristics she would have and how to best normalize autism for all children.
The puppeteer that controls Julia, Stacy Gordon, has a personal connection to the role because her son has autism.
“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through [what they saw on] TV […], they might not have been frightened,” Gordon stated in an interview with 60 Minutes, “They might not have been worried when he cried [and] would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”
This is not the first time “Sesame Street” has introduced characters that show different lifestyles. According to Time, in 2013 “Sesame Street” introduced Alex, a muppet whose father was in prison, and in the early 2000’s they had a muppet named Kami who was HIV-positive.
“There is [not a] typical example of an autistic child [but] we’ve worked so carefully to make sure that [Julia] had certain characteristics that would allow children to identify with her, which is what Sesame does best,” Sherrie Westin, executive vice president at Sesame Workshop, stated to the National Public Radio (NPR), “Reaching children, looking at these things through their lens and building a greater sort of sense of commonality.”