’Sesame Street’ has welcomed its first character with autism.
The children’s TV show will introduce Julia, a character with a short orange bob, on American channels in April 2017.
Julia has featured in ‘Sesame Street’ digital and printed storybooks since October 2015 portrayed as a girl who “does things a little differently”.
‘Sesame Street’ writer Christine Ferraro told CBS News 60 minutes: “The big discussion right at the start was: ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?’
“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
Ferraro said in Julia’s debut episode she will demonstrate common characteristics of children with autism and the characters in the show will try to create a game which makes Julia feel comfortable enough to join in.
Julia’s puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism. She said having this representation on TV will show other kids with autism they aren’t alone.
Commenting on the introduction of the new character, Mandy Williams, CEO of Child Autism UK, told The Huffington Post UK: “’Sesame Street’ is an iconic mainstream programme, so this has to be a very positive move.
“All children with autism are different, but they do have characteristics which are common. They often feel overwhelmed by sensory issues like noise and bright lights and that means they don’t always react the same as other children.
“Similarly they don’t always understand the rules of games and don’t participate in a predictable way. This means they sometimes get isolated, or worse bullied.
“A programme like ‘Sesame Street’ that introduces these issues early to a whole generation could help significantly increase understanding, tolerance and empathy.”
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said the charity was “really pleased” to see a popular TV show introducing a character with autism.
Lever called it a “significant step” in improving public understanding of autism, and making people on the autism spectrum feel more accepted.
He told HuffPost UK: “Almost everyone has heard of autism now. But a much smaller number of people understand what it actually means to be autistic, the difficulties autistic people can face – and their strengths too.
“Some of the biggest leaps forward in the understanding of autism have happened because of films, books and TV shows, like ‘The A Word’ and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’.
“We hope that Julia, the ‘Sesame Street’ character, will have a similar effect and inspire other writers and film-makers to reflect the diversity of the autism spectrum in their work.”