'Sesame Street' to tackle autism with new muppet

Big Bird (L) and other Sesame Street puppet charactors will be joined by a new muppet named Julia who has autism AFP

WASHINGTON —

“Sesame Street” has often experimented with new ways of teaching children about social issues as well as their ABCs since its launch nearly 50 years ago. Now it’s taking on a new challenge: autism.

The groundbreaking public television children’s program is introducing a new character, a muppet named Julia who has autism, the show’s creators revealed on the CBS News show “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.

Diagnoses of autism have risen steadily in recent years to the rate of one in every 68 U.S. children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But tackling the topic for children was far from straightforward.

“The big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?’” Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro told “60 Minutes.”

“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”

The episode introducing Julia includes some common scenarios.

When Big Bird is introduced to her, she ignores him. And when a group of children decide to play tag together, Julia becomes so excited she starts jumping up and down.

“That’s a thing that can be typical of some kids with autism,” Ferarro said.

But the situation turns into a new game in which all the children jump around with Julia.

“So it was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation, they can meet her where she is,” Ferraro said.

As for other characters, the show conducted extensive research, including consultations with educators and child psychologists, and in this case autism organizations, to understand how best to normalize autism for non-autistic children.

Julia’s puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, also happens to be the mother of an autistic son.

“It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” she told “60 Minutes.”

“Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened.”

Although it’s not clear whether Julia will become a major character, “I would love her to be,” Ferarro said.

“I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on ‘Sesame Street’ who has autism,” she added. “I would like her to be just Julia.”

© 2017 AFP

  • -4

    kyushubill

    “I would love her to be not Julia, the kid on ‘Sesame Street’ who has autism,” she added. “I would like her to be just Julia.”

    Then why have Julia have autism then? Why not a muppet just named Julia?

  • -2

    sourpuss

    @kyushubill

    Now, now. Stop making sense.

  • -4

    Sabrage

    I thought they had autism covered with Big Bird.

  • 3

    The Original Wing

    Sesame Street continues to lead the way in teaching new generations about diversity. Kids benefit a lot from seeing human characters of various races and accents, and muppet characters of all types and styles. It's a far cry from "the nail the sticks out gets hammered down."

  • 4

    katsu78

    kyushubillMAR. 21, 2017 - 07:40AM JST Then why have Julia have autism then?

    Why not?

  • -2

    Kurobune

    Speaking of Big Bird, I saw where the the Twitter-in-Chief is going to submit a budget that will cut funding of public programming. Isn't that the equivalent of killing Big Bird !?! Jeez . . .

  • -7

    MsDelicious

    But the situation turns into a new game in which all the children jump around with Julia.

    So, by making all the kids appear abnormal during a so called normal situation, Julia learns absolutely nothing about proper behavior and learning to be part of the normal group.

    This is so anti pedagogical it makes me sad.

  • 2

    Haaa Nemui

    I always thought Animal had some raging autism. Loved him nonetheless though.

  • 2

    The Original Wing

    Ms. Delicious: So, by making all the kids appear abnormal during a so called normal situation, Julia learns absolutely nothing about proper behavior and learning to be part of the normal group. This is so anti pedagogical it makes me sad.

    a) How is jumping around to have fun "appearing abnormal" for children? b) Perhaps you're right. But 67 out of 68 kids learn a lot about being inclusive and considerate of others.

    Diagnoses of autism have risen steadily in recent years to the rate of one in every 68 U.S. children

  • -2

    Attilathehungry

    kurobune: not true. Sesame Street recently signed a multi year deal with HBO to broadcast its shows. Amazingly, the non profit that runs SS was losing millions of dollars a year. Wow, what incompetence. You own the most iconic and well known kids' brand this side of Disney and still can't break even. They don't DESERVE public money just for that!

  • 0

    Strangerland

    They don't DESERVE public money just for that!

    Yep, if it's not profitable, it has zero societal value. Anything that doesn't make a profit needs to be banished from existence.

  • 0

    Patricia Yarrow

    Wish my ex-fiance had said he was mildly autistic with Asberger's. Would have helped a lot and avoided a lot of pain. Wasted a few years of my life wondering what was wrong with me...

  • 1

    chisineko

    There was something about the nail that stood up [ or out, no long sure which ] , and a reed in the wind. Something apparently about acceptance and behavior in to a society. In a PC culture, society's requirements are rapidly becoming merely suggestions.

  • 0

    juminRhee

    "When Big Bird is introduced to her, she ignores him."

    Wait... Big bird is a "him"? I thought big bird was a girl

  • 2

    Kurobune

    @ Strangerland - Sounds like that comment came straight from the Toddler-in-Chief's mouth ! Nice one !

  • -3

    JuliusCaesar

    Where did they find an autistic puppeteer? Anyway...can this be 'inspiration porn' to some?

  • -1

    deadbeatles

    ...Julia... as opposed to the name 'Not Julia'. Too complicated for ya?

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