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Meet Julia: 'Sesame Street' to debut muppet character with autism

Julia loves singing and playing games - and she has autism. The muppet character has joined the squad of "Sesame Street." The popular children's television show is known for its inclusive approach.

The creators of "Sesame Street" announced Sunday that the popular show would introduce a muppet named Julia who has autism.

The green-eyed, red-haired character was developed during years of consultation with families, organizations and experts within the autism community, Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of US Social Impact said.

Betancourt said one in 68 children in the US had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

"We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We're modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share," she said.

Everyday situations

An example is in the first episode featuring Julia. She is having fun with her friends Abby and Elmo when Big Bird walks in. He wants to be Julia's new friend, but she ignores him. He thinks she doesn't like him, until Abby informs him "she does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way."

Later, the children are playing a game of tag and Julia becomes distressed when a siren wails, covering her ears. 

"She needs to take a break," explains Big Bird's human friend Alan calmly. Soon all is well and the group starts playing again.

Passionate puppeteer

The puppeteer who plays Julia, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism and has worked as a therapist to children on the autism spectrum.

"The 'Meet Julia' episode is something that I wish my son's friends had been able to see when they were small," Gordon said. "I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react."

"Sesame Street" writer Christine Ferraro told "60 Minutes" she was keen for Julia to become a major character on the show.

"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."

Educational televison facing challenges

The announcement of the new character comes as funding for public broadcasting and the arts in the US faces cuts by the Trump administration.

Following funding struggles, Sesame Workshop in 2015 announced a five-year deal under which first-run episodes of "Sesame Street" would move to commercial premium broadcaster HBO and be shown on member stations of public broadcaster PBS nine months later.

"Sesame Street" has a large international following along with characters specific to the more than 150 different countries it airs in.

Julia has already appeared in online and printed illustrations as part of an initiative by Sesame Workshop called "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children." She is due to make her televised debut in April.

Read: When being diffferent comes in handy

Watch video 01:56

What is autism?

se/rc (AFP, AP)

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