Case Management, Guardianship Support, Life Care Plan

Just Julia

 May 3, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

As care managers and medical experts, we can rely on years of experience and thorough research when seeking to help and understand children on the autism spectrum. Millions of parents and educators share in our commitment to this goal. What about children, though? Where do they turn to? How about children who have autism? Where in popular culture can they see themselves? After 25 years, it seems all we need to know is still how to get to Sesame Street.

Shot on a soundstage in Queens, the beloved childrens television program has just stepped up to the proverbial plate with Julia, a new Muppet character with autism. Julia made her debut in a special episode entitled Meet Julia which aired on HBO and PBS Kids on April 10th. The new kid on the block loves to draw and is part of Sesame Street and Autism:  See Amazing in All Children.  The nationwide initiative was developed with input from parents, people who serve the autism community, and people with autism. It offers resources designed to help manage common challenges and simply everyday activities, such as videos for kids and parents, daily routine cards and a storybook introducing the world to Julia.

The truth is that Julia could not have arrived at a better time. The diagnosis is more common than ever, with 1 out of every 68 children in the United States diagnosed on the autism spectrum (ASD). Yet, public understanding remains abysmally low. This fact remains one of the greatest detriments to children with autism and those who care for them. Ignorance spawns bullying. Sadly, this remains far truer for children on the spectrum than it does for their peers. On Sesame Street, Julia is just one of the gang.

Julia has been developed over the past three years by Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact at parent company Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit media company and educational institute that created the TV show. With so much invested in the character, it took a very special person to bring her to life. Veteran puppeteer Stacy Gordon is the mother of a son with autism. The very idea that a child with autism could be on Sesame Street inspired her to travel from Phoenix to audition for the part. The hope invested in Julia is best summed up, though, by writer Christine Ferraro: I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on Sesame Street who has autism. I would like her to be just Julia.

By marrying its living legacy with the pressing matter of autism education, Sesame Street continues its proud tradition of providing educational television for children. Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney originally enlisted Jim Henson's Muppets to present America with a picture of diversity, with characters that every kid could relate to. Nearly fifty years later, that mission is being carried on with the help of a red-haired, green-eyed four-year-old who loves to paint and pick flowers. Her name is Julia.

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