Sesame Street is known for its diversity. The show started in 1969, and very intentionally showed a mix of Black kids and white kids living together on the same street, according to Newsweek.
Now, the children's show that so many of us grew up watching is even more diverse. A new Muppet will join the cast for the first time in 10 years. Her name is Julia, and she has autism.
Stacy Gordon, the puppeteer who will be playing Julia, has a son on the autism spectrum and used to do therapeutic work with people who have autism, she told NPR. She understands the mannerisms that will go into acting this character sensitively and accurately.
Julia often echoes what she hears from Elmo and the other Sesame Street characters. It can be difficult to get her attention, and sometimes she sees things the other Muppets don't see.
When she explained these differences to NPR staff Abby Cadabby, a Muppet on the show, said, "That's just Julia being Julia."
It's incredible for both children and their parents to watch, and will hopefully help them understand when classmates act differently from them — whether or not they have a disability like Julia.
"Man, I really wish that kids in my son's class had grown up with a Sesame Street that had modeling [of] the behavior of inclusion of characters with autism," Gordon told NPR.
Television doesn't always get autism right. Perhaps the most famous depiction of autism on our television screens is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Some in the autism community say the movie helped them recognize themselves as autistic, but many also say the portrayal is damaging to our understanding of people who have autism.
Hopefully, Julia gets it right and is instead a resource for parents and children.
The show spent three years developing Julia's character, according to NPR, and she's been a character in the books and online since last year. She'll officially join the cast for two episodes this season.