'Sesame Street' Introduces Family for Julia, Their Beloved Character with Autism

Sesame Street character Julia smiles while posing with her muppet family.
Sesame Street/Facebook

Two years ago, tiny audiences everywhere fell in love with Sesame Street's newest character, Julia. She wasn't a furry, cookie-obsessed monster or a grouchy green muppet who lives inside a garbage can. She was something else entirely -- and right away, it was clear she was something special. Julia's a character who looks and feels real (well, as "real" as a muppet could!). She's a character with unique quirks and eccentricities all her own. That's because Julia has autism, and her introduction into the Sesame Street crew created a new kind of representation in children's programming that has never been more needed. But this week, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, PBS went one step further and introduced Julia's family -- to resounding applause from fans everywhere.

  • The network hopes that by introducing Julia's family, it will help broaden the scope of autism representation even more.

    In a recent behind-the-scenes video shared on Sesame Street's Facebook page, Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Street Workshop, said:

    "Sesame has a long history of addressing challenging issues facing children, always from the lens of a child ... we created Julia largely because here would be a character that children could relate to who had autism, but we also knew how important it was to help all children and all families have a greater understanding of autism, and that's what led to the creation of Julia's family."

    That family includes a mom who works as an art teacher by day and a dad who plays the saxophone and works as an EMT. Julia also has a brother named Samuel who loves soccer and a happy-go-lucky pup who gives her lots of love.

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  • Seeing that family unit together on screen is huge for kids with autism, who perhaps for the first time are seeing a family that looks like their own.

    "Julia as a whole is so important to so many people," said Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer who plays Julia. "So to be part of a team that gets to deliver this message to kids is probably the biggest honor that could be bestowed, I get goosebumps just thinking about it."

    Those goosebumps are understandable, because Julia is kind of a big deal. In the years since her arrival, PBS has launched the See Amazing in All Children initiative, which seeks to spread autism awareness through the character of Julia in more ways than one. Head to Sesame Street's website, and you'll find all sorts of resources and entertainment related to autism awareness, including interactive storybooks, interactive games for kids, and further reading for parents.

  • "Our goal," Sherrie Westin continued, "is to increase understanding, to increase understanding, to increase empathy."

    It certainly seems to be working. 

    Parents everywhere applauded the introduction of her character back in 2017, and they were even more overjoyed when Julia's family arrived on the scene this week. 

    "This is so so sweet," wrote one Facebook user.

    "I really like this and being on the spectrum myself, I love my family unconditionally and I know they love me too," wrote another.

    And the love for Julia herself continues to flow.

    "I want to say thanks again for having Julia on your show!" wrote one Facebook user. "As I am myself an autistic female, it's really amazing to see."

    "Thank you Sesame Street for including such a character on your show," added another. "Even though I was already 24 when Julia debuted and am now 26, I still appreciate what you’ve been doing lately."

  • The outpouring of love for Julia isn't lost on show creators, who see it as confirmation that her addition wasn't just welcome but necessary.

    After all, when you consider that autism rates are on the rise in the US, and that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Julia's story is really the story of so many American children today. 

    And that story deserves representation, too.

    "By helping others understand, and by helping autistic children feel less alone," Westin said, "Julia is changing the world."

    She certainly is.