Julia, Sesame Street’s first character with autism, debuted in 2015. Now she’s back with the whole family in a series of materials, videos, and one episode that focus on how Julia, along with her parents, brother, and companion dog, overcome challenges that are difficult for any family. Julia winds up teaching Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and other characters that families similar to Julia’s might face unique obstacles, but challenges are overcome with the same love and determination as can be found in any other family. Sesame Street developed these materials in honor of Autism Awareness Month. The Julia-focused episode will air on HBO and PBS KIDS on April 8.
“We’re thrilled to expand Julia’s world with her parents, big brother, and her adorable dog, Rose, in our new resources,” said Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “Children with autism often face unique challenges, as do their parents and siblings. But every family faces challenges of some sort, which is why we are focusing on what all families have in common. In a family, everyone has different roles, challenges, and strengths, and everyone can learn from one another.”
One video starring Julia and her family shows viewers the “I Love My Family” song, in which Julia’s mom, Elena, dad, Daniel, big brother, Samuel, and dog, Rose sing to celebrate family; another is “Starfish Hug,” where Abby Cadabby learns a new kind of comforting hug from Julia and Samuel. Sesame Street fans can also see the process of bringing Julia’s family to the forefront come to life in a behind-the-scenes video.
Julia lovers can also flip through a new Circle of Friends storybook that chronicles how Julia stands up for another camper with autism during the summer. Given that kids with autism are five times more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical peers, Circle of Friends aims to prevent bullying by fostering empathy and compassion between children. The book is available on eBook platforms, and paperback copies will be distributed to autism partner organizations and community providers.
Sesame Street will round out this collection of Julia-focused materials with a digital interactive activity and an episode in which Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Alan help Julia feel less scared about getting a haircut by playing ‘hair salon’ and pretending to be hair stylists. The segment was created in response to a need families have expressed for materials tackling common experiences that can pose challenges for children with autism. Finally, Sesame Street will release articles and activities for families and service providers, which will include tips on creating family traditions, strategies to help children cope with bullying, and information on how animals, such as Julia’s dog, can enrich a child’s life and help decrease stress.
Julia will also be featured in a new campaign with Autism Speaks and The Ad Council to promote the importance of early screening. Ad agency BBDO NY and Pinterest were also part of the collaboration, and BBDO's sister agency, Dieste, made it possible for materials to be distributed in Spanish. Julia's campaign and resources at ScreenForAutism.org and DeteccionDeAutismo.org will be available in two languages. They aim to increase public awareness around the importance of early autism screening, diagnosis if necessary, and intervention.
“We are committed to creating a more inclusive world for people with autism, and that starts with early screening and timely intervention so that people with autism can live their fullest lives. There is considerable work to be done in overcoming obstacles that may delay a diagnosis – the first step toward improved future outcomes,” said Autism Speaks President and CEO Angela Geiger. “With this new campaign, we hope to give families the tools they need to identify early signs, feel empowered to get their children screened and seek support if they need it.”
Main Image: Julia and her family. Photo Credit Sesame Workshop / Richard Termine