It's an important day for 'Sesame Street' as they take the first step in helping more kids to relate.
'Sesame Street' is making waves once again by introducing a unique new character to their cast. Julia is the first character in the series to have autism and sees set to arrive on our screens in April. The addition marks an important turning point in on-screen diversity.
Julia is the new character in 'Sesame Street'
Julia will be puppeteered by Stacey Gordon, who is more equipped than most to depict the character's mannerisms and behaviour, given that her own child is living with autism. 'I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age', she told 60 Minutes.
Of course, it hasn't been easy for the writers to develop the character; they had to find a way of making the condition come across clearly and authentically to pre-school children, without bumping into any stereotypes. 'It's tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism', said writer Christine Ferraro, according to Deadline.
Nonetheless, this is a huge step in terms of acceptance of people with learning disorders. Of course, there have been many television shows that have depicted characters with autism or autistic traits, but often they are characterised by immense genius which shamelessly romanticises and comedifies the condition, without really giving an accurate all-round representation. Spencer Reid in 'Criminal Minds' or Sheldon Cooper in 'The Big Bang Theory' are prime examples of this - and with the constant scoffing of their friends for amusing effect, it rather distances itself from people who genuinely struggle to engage socially.
But there are some TV shows that depict autism and other learning disorders with much accuracy, either because the actors themselves live with them or because the aim of the show is to reach out to people with related conditions. The British TV show 'The Story of Tracy Beaker' (and its subsequent spin-offs), based on the Jacqueline Wilson story, features multiple characters on the autistic spectrum, one with Down Syndrome, as well as various characters with physical disabilites like cerebral palsy as it deals with life inside a children's home. 'American Horror Story' also features an actress with Down Syndrome among its cast: Jamie Brewer.
These are small steps on the way to television providing a full, well-rounded collection of characters that everyone in the world can relate to, no matter what their personal and mental struggles are. But 'Sesame Street''s decision could be a landmark moment.