Someone new is moving to Sesame Street! The newest muppet, Julia, will be joining the cast on the April 10 episode. Julia has autism, and from the looks of the things, she’s going to make friends fast in her new home.
There’s a cute new video introducing Julia, as she sings “Sunny Days” with Abby. But, Julia’s not totally new. She’s been part of Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, an initiative started by the Sesame Workshop in 2015 to help educate kids and adults alike about autism and the kids who have it. Julia was introduced as an animated character in short videos last year, but it’s only now that she’ll be getting the muppet treatment. In addition to becoming a show regular, Julia will continue to appear in animated videos, along with books and ebooks.
The Sesame Workshop is taking the initiative seriously. Before they went public with it in 2015, they had worked behind the scenes with over 250 organizations and experts dedicated to autism to work out the best way to present characters with autism. That includes Stacey Gordon, Julia’s voice actor, and Christine Ferraro, the writer of the upcoming episode, both of whom have family members who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The demand has been there, too — Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact for Sesame Workshop, said “For years, families of children with autism have asked us to address the issue. We heard a call to use our expertise and characters to build a bridge between the autism and neurotypical communities.”
The initiative is meant to encourage understanding of autism and empathy for kids who have been diagnosed with ASD. It’s an important project — in 2015, a government study suggested that 1 in 45 children in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of autism. That’s a lot of kids who deserve some love and don’t always get it from the media — something Sesame Street has been keen on changing.
Julia’s debut episode, “Meet Julia,” will air on April 10 on both PBS Kids and HBO. But, there’s no need to wait until April 10 to meet her — you can see all kinds of material featuring Julia, including multiple YouTube shorts with muppet Julia, on the Sesame Street and Autism Website.