Sesame Street has introduced its first autistic character, a little girl called Julia, explaining the condition to young viewers with a little help from Big Bird.
Julia appeared in the US show for the first time on Tuesday, in an episode welcomed by parents.
In the opening scene, Big Bird walks over and says hello but is upset when Julia does not look up from her painting activity.
He asks if she is shy, but an adult tells him: “She has autism, and she likes it when people know that. For Julia, it means that she might not answer you straight away. And she may not do what you expect, like give you a high five.”
Another muppet character adds: “She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.”
I love representation in media. I love diversity & I love, LOVE how Sesame Street just debuted Julia, their new Muppet with autism <3
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Sesame Street worked with autism organisations to develop the character, who has appeared in apps and e-books since 2015.
On social media, parents of autistic children praised the portrayal. One mother wrote: “As the parent of a girl with autism, I cannot thank you enough for Julia.”
The puppeteer behind Julia, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. She said: “The ‘Meet Julia’ episode is something that I wish my son’s friends had been able to see when they were small.”
“What brought this to light was really the incidence of autism here and the frequency,” said Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice-president of U.S. social impact.
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“So it was the right time, and doing it well … is why it took us over five years of research to actually bring Julia to life.”
Julie Bascom, deputy executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network told 60 Minutes: “In the show itself, it’s been really great to see her movements and her way of communication respected.”
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