Naomi Ludlow | Staff Writer
While realizing the changes of media and technology, it is evident that our youth are the most impacted. The youth rely heavily on what they see on television or through other mediums to gain knowledge. The incorporation of children with disabilities in popular programming has recently increased which should encourage other networks to partake in this too.
Sesame Street has introduced a new character named Julia who has autism. This is a groundbreaking moment because it allows children with disabilities to have that representation. Not only will the children with disabilities be represented, but children without them will know that disabilities exist. They will look at their television screens and realize that when they see something like this in person, that it is normal. The mannerisms that Julia performs are typical of an autistic child, and recognition will, in some part, help an autistic child blend in more.
Stacy Gordon, the veteran puppeteer to play Julia, said, “Man, I just wish that kids in my son’s class had grown up with Sesame Street that had modeling [of] the behavior of inclusion of characters with autism.”
Gordon has a background of doing therapeutic work for people with autism and her son is on the autism spectrum. She is excited that children will now have an early understanding of what to expect from people with disabilities.
The character Julia is a 4-year-old girl who echoes what she has heard from her friends and has a low attention span. The other Muppets on the show normalize her actions to reflect the normality of having autism.
Julia will make her television debut on April 10 on various platforms where the show is aired, including PBS Kids, HBO, and YouTube. She will initially appear in English and Spanish in the U.S., Australia, the U.K. and Mexico and will subsequently appear in more languages in countries throughout the world later in the year.
The character was first introduced last year in books and other digital offerings. The company saw this as an opportunity to endorse the “See Amazing in all Children” campaign. The material is posted on a dedicated site.
There was a study conducted by Georgetown University to show the impact of Sesame Street’s new character. The study shows that the character helps families with autistic children feel more comfortable in community activities, and families without autistic children are more accepting with those that do.
All in all, Sesame Street has set the bar for introducing disabled children and should influence other stations/shows to do the same.