“Sesame Street” is a show that has spent decades teaching children that although everyone is different, everyone is also normal.
The latest character to show that is Julia, a Muppet 4-year-old with autism. Having already appeared in storybooks, Julia will make her first live appearance April 10. Portrayed as somewhat quiet but loving to sing, Julia will be introduced as a regular kid who just “does things a little differently.”
Georgina Perez Liz, a research assistant with the Early Detection Project at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, is the mother of a 6-year-old boy with autism. As such, she and her family participated in a study from Children’s National Health System, where Sesame Street’s “See Amazing in All Children” initiative was evaluated. As a result, she got a sneak peak at Julia before it was announced that she’d be coming to the show.
Here, Perez Liz gives us three things to keep in mind about Julia as she makes her debut.
- It can be important for children with autism to see someone like themselves
“Interestingly, autistic children in the target age group for this show might not know yet that they have autism or even self-identify with those traits yet. However, for those who do, a lack of representation of their own traits in the mainstream media is likely to contribute to making them feel like ‘not fitting in.’ I have read several opinions by people with autism who concur that seeing a portrayal of someone with autism in mainstream media implies that they are not invisible, that they matter just as much as everyone else.”
- Julia is not a representation of how autism presents itself in every person on the spectrum.
“Portrayals of people with autism in a movie or TV show are bound to be incomplete. Stephen Shore, an autistic self-advocate said, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism — you’ve met one person with autism,’ meaning that no two people with autism are the same. Picking certain traits for a character is a mere representation and it seems that ‘Sesame Street’ has done a good job with that. They have not only depicted some of Julia’s common struggles — like loud noises — but also her amazing talents, like singing or painting.”
- How others on the show interact with Julia can be just as important as how she is portrayed.
“It will be very interesting to watch how ‘Sesame Street’ shows Julia’s interactions with other characters, and how well they represent others adjusting to accommodations needed to welcome the new Muppet on the block. For example, Big Bird might initially think that Julia doesn’t want to talk to him because she doesn’t immediately respond to his greeting. Later, he could learn she responds in her own time, and they play together. A scenario like that could help children without autism learn kind and appropriate ways to behave toward friends and classmates with autism. These characters would be positive models.”
Any media interested in speaking to Perez Liz should contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.