The Julia Effect

This past week Julia from Sesame Street celebrated her birthday. Julia, the muppet with autism, is special in our family.

When Sesame Street first introduced Julia in 2015 as part of its autism initiative their goal was to spread autism awareness to its audience. Julia flaps her arms, sometimes has a hard time finding the right words to use and gets scared easily from the world around her. Nonetheless she is accepted and included in the group with the other muppets.

Julia however has had a different effect on our family. Since my daughter Kelsey is a fan of Sesame Street Julia was the perfect way to explain to her that she too has autism. Finding the right moment to tell your child that they have autism doesn’t come up too often. We debated a long time to even tell her at all. She never asked and it was never brought up. She was always content just being who she was.

The opportunity was now here however and now was the time. At last I had the perfect opportunity to sit down with her and explain why she was like she was. Why she took the van to school and not the yellow school bus, why she was in smaller classes, why she had so many “extra” teachers; the speech teacher, the OT teacher, the PT teacher, the guidance teacher, and why sometimes noises and crowds of people were not her favorite thing.

The night Sesame Street introduced Julia in storybook form I told her. We were sitting on her bed with her iPad anxiously awaiting the reveal of this new Sesame Street muppet. And then it happened. Julia was introduced in a digital storybook called “We’re Amazing…1,2,3.” There she was, red hair, big green eyes, the girl muppet with autism. I remember Kelsey being very excited that this new muppet was a girl. She became even more excited when I told her she had something in common with Julia. She too had autism. Finally, my daughter had a muppet that she could personally relate to.

Sesame Street brought Julia to life in April of 2017 during World Autism Month. She appeared in her first episode on PBS and HBO. Young children watching Sesame Street today will grow up watching how a child that is different can also be similar to themselves. What a great thing to be exposed to before they even enter school. Sesame Street, job well done.

My daughter stays very up to date with Julia. I’m informed of every new episode or storybook that comes out. We watched the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade to see if she would be on the Sesame Street float. And yes, she was! She stood on top of the float wearing green headphones and holding her bunny with the other muppets. Kelsey reminds me at least twice a week of those green headphones. She has a blue pair at home to help with thunder and lightning and all of those 4th of July fireworks. She used to be self conscious about wearing them and didn’t want people to think she was different. Not anymore though. The Julia effect! Thank you Sesame Street and Julia for bringing autism into your neighborhood. The effects have been wonderful.

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