Heard on the Hill

Congress Meets New Muppet with Autism, Julia

Doyle and Smith join advocate Holly Robinson Peete

Actress and autism advocate Holly Robinson Peete, and “Sesame Street” character Abby Cadabby introduce the newest Muppet, Julia, right, during a presentation in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Sesame Street” showed off its new Muppet, Julia, on Tuesday at a briefing in the Capitol by actress and autism advocate Holly Robinson Peete.

Julia is a four-year-old year old with autism. She makes her debut on the show on April 10 on HBO, PBS and other carriers in an episode entitled, “Meet Julia.”

Julia is part of the initiative, “Sesame Street and Autism: See amazing in all children,” which launched in fall 2015.

“Julia, you are amazing. Thank you so much for being here,” Peete said. “That’s a moment, guys.”

 

 

“We knew that this was an issue we needed to address,” said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president for Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit arm of the show.

The goals of the initiative are to create tools and resources for families with children with autism and reach the public to help destigmatize it.

“She’s very curious and she has autism,” Weston said about Julia. She was first created online as a digital muppet and has been in a storybook, “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!”

President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, Jeffrey Dunn, noted the importance of the reveal taking place in the Capitol.

“[Sesame Street viewers are] little people, they’re three feet tall. They are nonpartisan. They’re too innocent to judge,” he said.

Pennsylvania Democratic Mike Doyle spoke before Julia appeared. He teamed up with New Jersey Republican Rep. Christopher H. Smith in 2001 to found Congress’ Coalition for Autism Research and Education

The caucus’ “main objectives was to inform other members of Congress about autism spectrum disorder,” Doyle said.

He added praise for the “Sesame Street” initiative: “At its heart, it is taking our shared goal of education and taking information out to the widest and most important [group] out there: young children and their parents.”

“With Julia as a Muppet who brings to life the daily challenges that a child with ASD faces, it will be a really, huge impact on the community,” Smith said.

Peete moderated a panel discussion, which included doctors from Georgetown University Medical Center and Children’s National Health System, who tested the effects of the online portion of the initiative.

She and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, have a son with autism.

 “I always like to say I wouldn’t change my son for the world but I would like to change the world for my son,” she said.

Her late father, who had Parkinson’s Disease, played the original character of “Gordon” on Sesame Street when it debuted in 1969.

 “The idea that there’s a Muppet, a beloved Muppet, who’s like besties with Elmo, that’s a game-changer for the autism community,” Peete said.

She presented a preview of “Meet Julia.” The clip was Julia’s first meeting with Big Bird.

In the scene, Julia is quietly concentrating on her painting. Big Bird takes that a sign she doesn’t like him so a human guest explains that she has autism.

“What’s autism?” Big Bird asks.

“For Julia, it means she might not answer you right away,” the guest says.

“She does things a little differently. In a Julia sort of way,” another Muppet, Abby, adds.

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