Portraying people with differences in media is no easy task. Challenging stereotypes can be even more difficult. In the case of autism, creating a character that represents an entire community can seem insurmountable, but the team at Sesame Street was more than willing to take up the challenge. In the episode “Meet Julia” Sesame Street gets a new friend who’s on the spectrum. Throughout the episode, Julia’s “quirks” are explained to Big Bird and in turn the audience. After the episode aired, the autism community weighed in to decide if Sesame Street created a positive image for a child with autism.
In the Spokesman-Review, an online news publication, joined several families who have children with autism to get their take on Julia, the newest Sesame Street friend. The families pointed out that Sesame Street did a good job of incorporating different aspects of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into Julia such as sensory sensitivity, basic communication skills, and stimming (where Julia flaps her arms rapidly). While at the same time Sesame Street tackled the issue with the isolation that most children with ASD struggle with.
“Having ‘Sesame Street’ incorporate a child into their program that is going to explain in real simple terms what it’s like having a child with autism or being an individual with autism is going to be huge for our autism community,” said Jess Silvernail, the development director at the Isaac Foundation, which is an organization that helps families with autism. “It will also hopefully bring awareness.”
For many families, they hope that Julia will set a better example for how people connect with and accept those with autism.