National News

Autism Society of NC applauds Sesame Street for new muppet with autism

Posted April 26
Updated April 28

"Sesame Street" is debuting a new character named Julia, who has autism, in April.

After spending nearly half a century on air, the children's program "Sesame Street," welcomed a new muppet to the children's cast in 2017: Julia, a muppet with autism.

Sesame Street's "Meet Julia" episode aired on April 10, episode 4,715 of the show. She is performed by puppeteer Stacy Gordon, who said her experiencing raising her son, who has autism, has helped her "bring the character to life."

“Bringing Julia to life as a "Sesame Street" muppet is the centerpiece of all of our new materials to support families of children with autism,” said Sherrie Westin, a spokesperson for Sesame Workshop in a release.

The character was first introduced as part of the "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children" initiative in 2016 as a digital storybook character. Because of the positive feedback from the autism community and the general public, the program decided to bring Julia to the show.

David Laxton, a spokesperson for the Autism Society of North Carolina said the organization feels "Sesame Street" accurately and tactfully features the autism community.

"Julia responds to things differently than Big Bird does, and PBS takes the time to explain why," Laxton said.

While characters with autism have been featured on television and movies before, Laxton said featuring Julia has a specific purpose for the community, making Sesame Workshop's character unique and progressive.

"They've done their homework," Laxton said. "I'm grateful that they are doing what they are doing because it helps people understand more"

The organization provides support and resources for the 65,000 family's affected by autism in North Carolina. With a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent, Laxton said it's not a matter of if you will know someone with autism, it's only a matter of when.

"There are more kids with autism in our state every year. It is not going down, it has always gone up for as long as we've been looking at the data," Laxton said.

With specialists serving every county in the state, the organization provides clinical services, family support, social opportunities for people of all ages and places on the spectrum. It also works to educate the community and advocate for those affected by autism.

The organization also houses the nation's oldest summer camp program for people with autism, Camp Royall in Chatham County. The 133-acre camp provides camp activities in a structured environment for those on the autism spectrum.

Sesame Workshop spent more than five years consulting over 250 organizations and experts to create Julia's character, carefully selecting language and characteristics to describe her.

Laxton points out the fact that the show makes it very clear that autism is a spectrum, and all people with autism are not like Julia.

"It's commonly said that 'If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism,' and I think they made that idea clear," he said. ​"It's a more accurate and realistic explanation"

He also said the creators did an excellent job explaining the concept for the audience's level. But he thinks along with children, parents can learn something from the show.

"It leads to positive, constructive dialogue," Laxton said. "We're not only promoting awareness, we're promoting acceptance. It's breaking down barriers."

Laxton said "Sesame Street's" prevalence as a children's program makes it the perfect platform for reaching the world's children.

"Kids and their parents are learning more about autism every time they talk about it, and for the kids with autism, there is a character they can relate to."

"I'm so grateful for what they are doing," Laxton said. "It's a generation that will know about autism from an earlier age."


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