Seeing Amazing in All Children: Sesame Workshop's Autism Acceptance Month Initiative

In celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, Sesame Workshop unveils new materials related to Julia, their Muppet with autism.

Image showing Elmo, Julia and Rudy on Sesame Street

Sesame Workshop

April is Autism Acceptance Month, a month that celebrates all our beautiful differences. Back in 2015, Sesame Workshop introduced Julia to their roster of all-star Muppets. Julia, like all of her furry friends, has childhood joy, vibrancy, and relatability in spades. But Julia is also different: she has autism.

Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong condition that affects about 1 in 36 children. It can be characterized by children's difficulty connecting to peers, social anxiety, and, in some cases, challenges with speaking and other executive functions. Yet children with this condition are hugely creative, just like Julia, and deserve to be honored and included, like their neurotypical peers.

In honor of this month-long celebration of our differences, Sesame Workshop is launching new resources surrounding autism. The initiative is centered on belonging and artistic expression, developed by a consortium of autism experts and organizations starting in 2015 and updated as recently as May 2021.

Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D., senior vice president of U.S. social impact for Sesame Workshop, tells Parents the new materials focus on childhood happiness and acceptance. "The entire goal of our initiative is to celebrate the joy of being a child—to celebrate the uniqueness in every child while also looking at how to accept and go a step beyond, engage with children who may demonstrate differences through a lens of acceptance and understanding," she explains.

The all-new content, called Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, focuses on family bonding, building friendships, coping with the pandemic, as well as routines and flexibility. Julia is at its center, shining a light on inclusion for children with autism.

Who Is Julia?

Julia has been a familiar fixture on Sesame Street since 2015, but Betancourt says that their work on Julia's character began far earlier. In 2012, Sesame Workshop consulted with autism experts on how to connect neurotypical and neurodiverse communities. The goal was to "help reduce the stigma and misconceptions associated with autism," Betancourt explains.

Muppets can be easier for children to relate to than, say, a lecture about inclusivity. "Sesame Street has a long history of engaging children in all areas of their development and learning. We regularly base our engagement on research with children and the grownups that influence their development," Betancourt says. Sesame Workshop wanted to create resources and programming that, "are not always focused on Julia's autism, rather on how she engages equally with her Sesame friends, how she helps others, contributes in her way such as communicating using a tablet, and most of all, shows others insights or activities they may not be aware of."

Julia featured on Sesame Street

Sesame Workshop / Richard Termine

Also vital to Julia's development: her gender. "We purposefully selected a female character to highlight that autism spectrum impacts all genders," Betancourt adds. Autism, sometimes thought of as a gendered disorder, is actually prevalent across gender, race, and income levels.

Stacey Gordon, Julia's puppeteer, explains that Julia is a character with universal appeal. She is a vibrant, curious 4-year-old who loves her two best friends, Abby and Elmo. In that way, she is like many other of her peers. But unlike them, Julia sees the world differently. "I feel extremely honored and privileged to bring her to life on Sesame Street, and view myself as not only her performer but also her advocate," Gordon explains.

But Gordon isn't just Julia's puppeteer; she herself has a child with Autism and feels uniquely connected to the character. "Julia is often in the same situations that my son and a lot of kids and adults have been in (including myself)," Gordon says. "She's been anxious, joyful, energetic, quiet, helpful, angry, curious, loving, calm, and caring—just like everyone else on Sesame Street and everyone else on every other street, too!"

Julia on Sesame Street

Sesame Workshop / Richard Termine

Julia has evolved since Gordon began portraying her character in 2015. In previous years, Gordon admits she was worried about leaning too far into her personal experiences. But in 2018, she experienced a turning point in Julia's portrayal.

"I began to view myself as her advocate rather than just her performer. A lot of things changed for me at that moment. I not only knew who this kid was on the surface, but I allowed myself to fully know what was inside of her heart, beyond what was written for her on the page," Gordon explains. "She's truly a whole person, [but] in years prior I was maybe a little too timid to dig so deeply. I realized the character isn't made of glass and won't break if I make bolder choices with her."

Julia's evolution makes her an integral part of Sesame Street, helping children relate to others who might be different from them, and with that, developing their empathy and sensitivity. "We developed Julia in a way that represents preschool children in general—highlighting the activities they use to express themselves and showing some areas where they may need support," Betancourt says. "Julia's creativity helps her engage with all her friends and family, and gives others an opportunity to connect with her, too!"

What's New for Julia on Sesame Street?

Sesame Workshop's latest initiative with Julia leans into her beautiful differences. See Amazing in All Children includes two new videos featuring Julia. In "Princess Paint-a-Lot," Julia, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita create a story about a princess who loves to paint—just like Julia. In "Julia's Needed," Julia helps Elmo and Rudy paint a rainbow. In both videos, Julia is armed with her trusty tablet, which helps her verbalize thoughts and relate to others.

Sesame Workshop will also be releasing a storybook called Julia and the Super Sunny Celebration, available digitally in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. There are also three new printable pages for parents featuring scenes from Super Sunny Celebration as well as others.

Betancourt explains that, through the recent meeting with autism experts, Sesame Workshop wanted to focus on how Julia's personality and unique talents are vital to her community. "The new videos, storybook, and activity sheets highlight one of the initiative's key goals which are to support acceptance. We purposefully used items familiar to grownups supporting young children, neurodiverse or neurotypical alike, such as reading a storybook together," she explains. "So, in the storybook, we see lots of characters, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, helping one another."

Additional resources tailored toward parents, caregivers, and providers are available on the Sesame Workshop website.

Sesame Street coloring page featuring Julia

Sesame Workshop

How Can Kids Visit Julia?

Some parents and their children might wonder where they can find Julia, both in person and on different tv programming. Not to be missed is Sesame Workshop's expanded entertainment partnerships, which will have Julia herself visiting theme parks across the country. That includes Sesame Place at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld Orlando, as well as at all three Beaches Resorts in Turks and Caicos and Jamaica.

Sesame Place just outside of Philadelphia is the first theme park in the world to become a Certified Autism Center. It has completed Blue Bridge training so its staff can better communicate with autistic children who need assistance in having their voices heard and navigating sensory sensitivities.

Beyond the Americas, Sesame Workshop has taken its See Amazing in All Children initiative to Japan, partnering with the Midories, a musical group of five children, to create a special version of the song "We Belong." Performed live at the Autism Awareness Day lighting of Tokyo Tower on April 2, it is yet another feature of Sesame Workshop's partnership with the Japanese government and autism advocacy organizations across Japan.

Finally, Julia joined Sisimpur friends in Bangladesh for the 15th season, which premiered in February with a concerted focus on equity and inclusion.

What's Next For Julia?

Gordon has high hopes for Julia on Sesame Street. "Not only do I want autistic kids, adults, and their families to feel seen and represented in an authentic and positive way," she says. "I also hope to portray Julia in a way that helps kids and adults realize that, before she is autistic, Julia is a person and a kid who has the same feelings as everyone else and deserves the same respect, inclusion, joy, and life-fulfillment as everyone else."

As an autistic parent of two young children, I think Sesame Workshop's work during this month to promote the inclusion and creativity of autistic children is a wonderful step along the path to acceptance. All parents and children can relate to Julia: her love for her friends, her zest for life, and her boundless creativity. Sesame Workshop's new material is what Autism Acceptance Month is all about—all children are deserving of kindness, acceptance, and equity.

Betancourt is emphatic. "We believe that all children need a foundation of acceptance, ways to celebrate their uniqueness and understand one another. We are committed to providing resources that can be used in everyday moments to offer ways to connect and understand one another." She believes it's now more important than ever to model acceptance, not just during Autism Acceptance Month, but year-round.

In the end, Sesame Workshop's new materials and Julia's presence on Sesame Street, are helpful not only to those with autism and their caretakers but to everyone. Gordon summarizes the mission of See Amazing in All Children with beautiful clarity:

"No matter how we see the world, we'll always be—and do our best when we can to be authentic to who we are at our core, and accepted, not in spite of it, but because of it."

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder. CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. 2023.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2021.

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