Sesame Street will debut their autistic Muppet in just three days on April 10. Julia is four-years-old and she will be the first occurrence of Sesame Street introducing a character with a disability.
According to WWLTV, this is the first time in a decade that Sesame Street has introduced a new special Muppet to the gang as a regular character. Naturally, introducing the autistic Muppet in the right way was a lot of work on Sesame Street‘s part as autism is a spectrum disorder.
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WWLTV goes on to introduce a five-year-old named Elizabeth Gumpert who – along with her brothers – is autistic. While Elizabeth explores her world with a lot of energy and typically has a lot to say, it was not until the age of three that she begun to speak clearly. Her mother, Michelle Roberie, who happens to be the mother of three autistic children comments on how different each child is despite having the same disorder.
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Elizabeth told WWLTV she was excited to see Sesame Street would be featuring Julia. In fact, this five-year-old did attend the national rollout of Julia at the National Autism Conference, which took place in New Orleans. Elizabeth – and many others including the son of the puppeteer for Julia who is also autistic – believes this new Muppet may help other children to be more accepting and understanding of the disorder.
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Tulane Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics Dr. Lisa Settles, who is also an expert on autism, touched base on the fact that autism is a condition that people have been afraid of or embarrassed by not too long ago. She, however, believed introducing Julia will play a key role in changing that. Settles believes individuals are already well aware of the fact that autism exists. The next step is getting people to accept the condition and what it means.
“People are aware of autism and the next step is acceptance, and I think Julia’s character will help with that acceptance piece, and I think it’s going to help from the little child all the way up to the adult.”
In the video clip of the newest Muppet added to the Sesame Street gang, viewers can see Big Bird introducing himself to Julia. Julia, however, is oblivious to Big Bird introducing himself. This is when Big Bird’s friend Alan takes the time to explain that Julia is not being rude or ignoring it. Then Alan points out that it may just take Julia a little longer to notice and answer his greeting.
“She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way.”
JStor Daily notes that Sesame Street hasn’t been shy about making it clear that Julia is a little different than the rest of the Muppets on the show. The autistic Muppet’s mannerisms include being sensitive to loud noises and flapping her arms. She also tends to repeat things she has heard the other Muppets say and avoids making eye contact. The fact that Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer behind Julia, has a son with high-functioning autism has prepared her well to take on the role of Julia.
While Sesame Street will never be able to completely replicate what a real-life social interaction between a neurotypical child and an autistic child looks like, it can present a number of different situations in order to help normalize the experience. One example includes a skit where Elmo and Julia are playing together. Elmo attempts to use the doll he is playing with to get Julia to interact using the doll she’s playing with. Elmo eventually realizes that isn’t the way Julia plays and happily comments on the situation.
“We can play side by side like we do sometimes. There’s lots of ways friends can play.”
Experts and those who know someone who has autism hope introducing an autistic Muppet can show everyone different ways neurotypical and autistic children can play together in a way that is comfortable for both children in the equation.
Will you be watching Julia make her television debut on April 10? Share your thoughts with us in the comment’s section found down below.
[Featured Image by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images]