The BBC reports that diagnoses are on the rise in the United States of America, with roughly one in every 68 children now diagnosed with Autism.
Sesame Street writer Christine Ferraro discussed the process of introducing the character of Julia to show in an interview on the CBS news show 60 Minutes, “The big discussion right at the start was, ‘How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'” she explained, “It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
Julia will apparently be introduced to fellow Sesame Street character Big Bird, only for her to ignore him. Big Bird thinks this means that “maybe she didn’t like me” before other Muppets explain that she simply does things a bit differently to the others.
Stacey Gordon, who will control the Julia puppet, is herself a mother to an autistic son, and she believes the inclusion of the character could have a great impact on society. “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviours through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened” she said in an interview with 60 minutes.
Ferraro, meanwhile, hopes that before long Julia will become a permanent fixture in the Sesame Street neighbourhood, “I would love her to not be Julia, the kid on Sesame Street who has autism,” she says, “I would like her to just be Julia.”
The decision to make Sesame Street’s first autistic character a female is also significant; it was reported last year that autism in women was being severely under-diagnosed. Autism is historically predominantly linked to men, as experts believe that women are better at masking the usual signs, able to go imitate socially recognised behaviours even if they don’t fully understand them.