Talk about groundbreaking! After educating kids on TV for nearly 50 years, Elmo & the gang of ‘Sesame Street’ are getting a much-needed new friend: Julia. The adorable muppet has blazing red hair, green eyes, AND Autism. You’ll love how creators made this inspiring character — watch here!
Just in time for Autism Awareness Month in April, Sesame Street has introduced their very 1st character with autism! Elmo, Burt, & Ernie’s new friend is named Julia, and she’s a sweet 4-year-old who will have a massive impact on children and their families when she makes her official television debut on Apr. 10.
But while Julia is joining Sesame Street on TV next month, she has appeared in an online initiative, which began in October 2015. And already, families are thankful for the character and what she will teach young kids about autism — including Julia’s very own puppeteer Stacey Gordon. Stacey isn’t just an actress though, she’s also the mother of a child with autism.
“I said, ‘If there’s a puppet, I want to be her,’” Stacey, who said she immediately felt a strong connection to Julia, told 60 Minutes after seeing Julia as an animation online. “[I thought] it’s so far out there, it’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen.” But now that it IS happening on Sesame Street, Stacey knows firsthand the impact Julia will have on children who can identify with her.
“As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age,” Stacey said. What’s even more special, is Stacey is able to add authenticity to Julia’s character by drawing on her own experiences. “The public will understand that behind Julia, who, by the way, flaps and throws a fit when the noise gets too loud, that this mother who is manipulating the puppet knows that this is what happens,” 60 Minutes‘ Lesley Stahl said.
A lot of thought also went into Julia’s physical Muppet, which was created by Rollie Krewson — aka “Elmo’s mom” — a puppet designer who has been with Jim Henson‘s company since the 1970s. So what was it like to build a character like Julia? “Well in this particular case, it takes a lot of sensitivity,” Lesley, who interviewed Rollie, explained. In fact, Rollie created Julia’s Muppet with special consideration and thought everything out down to the smallest detail.
“Her hair had to be made so that her bangs weren’t in her eyes and that her hair didn’t fall into her mouth. And she couldn’t have any adornments in her hair—no barrettes, no ribbons.” Julia’s clothes are equally intentional. Her purple dress is loose, without distracting bows, buttons, or ribbons. Even her eyes were well thought out.
“Her eyes had to be a certain way because she has to have an intense look, but she has to look friendly,” Rollie shared. Her eyes can also change, depending on the scene. For example, Rollie created a half-closed version AND a totally closed version so that if Julia gets upset and overwhelmed, she can fully close her eyes. Like lots of kids on the autism spectrum, Julia has heightened sensitivity to noise, so when she hears sirens, they overwhelm her, triggering a meltdown.
“We’re going to tell you more about what that means, and why she’s acting this way,” Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President for Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop, said. “Give children that information. She’s acting this way because she’s on the autism spectrum. But then, you can still be friends.”
Tell us, HollywoodLifers — do you love that Sesame Street now has a character with Autism? Do you think it was a longtime coming?