Muppet with autism joining "Sesame Street" This image released by Sesame Workshop shows Julia, a new autistic muppet character debuting on the 47th Season of "Sesame Street," on April 10, 2017, on both PBS and HBO. (Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop via AP/AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Muppet with autism joining "Sesame Street"
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Folks on Sesame Street have a way of making everyone feel accepted.
 
That certainly goes for Julia. She is a Muppet youngster with blazing red hair, bright green eyes - and autism. Rather than being treated like an outsider, which too often is the plight of kids on the spectrum, Julia is one of the gang.
 
Look: On this friendliest of streets (actually Studio J at New York's Kaufman Astoria Studios, where "Sesame Street" lives) Julia is about to play a game with Oscar, Abby and Grover. In this scene being taped for airing next season, these Muppet chums have been challenged to spot objects shaped like squares or circles or triangles.
 
"You're lucky," says Abby to Grover. "You have Julia on your team. And she is really good at finding shapes!"
 
With that, they skedaddle. The exit calls for the six Muppeteers squatted out of sight below them to scramble accordingly. Joining her pals, Julia (performed by Stacey Gordon) takes off hunting.
 
For more than a year, Julia has existed in print and digital illustrations as the centerpiece of a multifaceted initiative by Sesame Workshop. It is called "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children."
 
She has been the subject of a storybook. It was released along with videos, e-books, an app and website. The goal is to promote a better understanding of what the Autism Speaks advocacy group describes as "a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences."
 
But now Julia has been brought to life in fine Muppet fettle. She makes her TV debut on "Sesame Street" in the "Meet Julia" episode airing April 10. It will air on both PBS and HBO. Additional videos featuring Julia will be available online.
 
Developing Julia and all the other components of this campaign has required years of consultation with organizations, experts and families within the autism community. This is according to Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact.
 
"In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder," she says. "We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We're modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share."
 
Julia is at the heart of this effort. But while she represents the full range of children on the spectrum, she isn't meant to typify each one of them. "Just as we look at all children as being unique, we should do the same thing when we're looking at children with autism," Betancourt says.
 
It was with keen interest that Stacey Gordon first learned of Julia more than a year ago. "I said, 'If she's ever a puppet, I want to BE Julia!'"
 
No wonder. Gordon is a Phoenix-based puppeteer. She performs, conducts classes and workshops, and creates whimsical puppets for sale to the public.
 
She also has a son with autism. And before she started her family, she was a therapist to youngsters on the spectrum.
 
Although she figured her chances of landing the dream role of Julia were nil, her contacts in the puppet world paid off. Two friends who worked as Muppeteers on "Sesame Street" dropped her name to the producers. After submitting tapes, then coming to New York for an audition, she was hired.
 
In the introductory segment, Julia is having fun with Abby and Elmo. That is when Big Bird walks up. He wants to be her new friend. But she doesn't speak to him. He thinks she doesn't like him.
 
"She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way," Abby informs him.
 
Julia, chuckling, then displays a different-but-fun way of playing tag. Everyone joins in. But when a siren wails, she covers her ears and looks stricken.
 
"She needs to take a break," Big Bird's human friend Alan calmly explains. Soon, all is well and play resumes.
 
"The 'Meet Julia' episode is something that I wish my son's friends had been able to see when they were small," says Gordon. "I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react."
 
Gordon says her son, now 13, isn't drawn to puppetry. "He's more interested in math and science, and plays the piano brilliantly," she says with pride.
 
But she's having a blast being part of the show. It helped hook her, as a child, on puppeteering.
 
"It is so much fun to be on set with everyone, and get to play up all the positive things I've seen with the kids that I've worked with," Gordon says. "At the same time, I come at this with a reverence. I don't want to let the autism community down."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can a Muppet model autistic behavior?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (114)
  • devynm13-
    3/23/2017 - 08:40 a.m.

    A Muppet can model autistic behavior by doing things differently. In the article, this behavior is called "just doing things the Julia type of way"

  • zakrym-ste
    3/23/2017 - 11:31 a.m.

    This was a great idea because it teaches kids how to act when they have a kid in that situation. It shows how kids with autism are different in every different situation. No autism case is the same. This is a very good way to teach tolerance and how to treat people equally.

  • matteor-
    3/23/2017 - 01:02 p.m.

    This a great for kids

  • giannij-
    3/23/2017 - 01:05 p.m.

    I think its a good thing that they are entering a puppet named Julia with autism..why? because younger children need to know how to act when they are around someone different then who they are

  • hayleel-ste
    3/23/2017 - 01:19 p.m.

    This personally makes me happy having a sister and family members who have autism. It is a great way to show these children and other people with autism that they are accepted with their differences.

  • brittaniw-smi1
    3/23/2017 - 03:16 p.m.

    A Muppet can model autistic behavior by modeling in a way both children and adults can look at autism in a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share.

  • nathanm14-ste
    3/23/2017 - 06:52 p.m.

    Coming soon is the Caitlyn Jenner muppet, she lives in the garbage can next to Oscar.

  • nathanm14-ste
    3/23/2017 - 06:54 p.m.

    It seems like they have been adding a lot of more diverse characters lately. With our world growing and advancing and diversity becoming more acceptable, it is good to see such progressive strides being made.

  • richardk-orv
    3/23/2017 - 09:06 p.m.

    they teach young kids not to make fun of a person who has any disability. this would also help them to befriended a kid who has autism and this is an early start for young kids.

  • kbrayden-dav
    3/24/2017 - 10:13 a.m.

    In response to "Muppet with autism joining "Sesame Street", I agree that a Muppet with autism should join sesame street. One reason I agree is that so kids could learn about autism. Another reason is that kids with autism could learn how live with the disease. It says in the article "I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react.". A third reason other kids could learn how to react to kids with autism. Even though other kids might think it's stupid, I think it's a great learning experience.

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