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Insightful News

Insightful News

Insightful News

A puppeteer's personal story about bringing Sesame Street's first autistic Muppet to life

It was a Thursday evening, and puppeteer Stacey Gordon was hard at work in her Phoenix, Arizona studio when she received the call of a lifetime.

Matt Vogel, Sesame Street‘s Muppet Captain and Big Bird understudy, called to let Gordon know that the show’s producers picked her to play Julia, the first-ever autistic Muppet and a new addition to the broadcast. The call left her stunned — so much so, she almost couldn’t absorb the news.

“I thought he said a different name,” Gordon says, laughing. “And then I was like, ‘Wait. That was my name.'”

Now, as both a puppeteer and mom of a 13-year-old autistic boy, she’s “thrilled and indescribably honored” to operate a Muppet who will bring more awareness and compassion around autism into millions of children’s homes.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, announced Sunday that Julia would join the program’s regular cast. Julia isn’t exactly a new face — she was first introduced in October 2015 as a digital Muppet through the organization’s broader autism initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children. But Julia’s creation as a walk-on character ushers in a variety of new resources about autism from Sesame Workshop, from English and Spanish-language ebooks to digital live-action segments on YouTube.

They’re resources Gordon wishes were around when her son was younger. His classmates often didn’t know how to react when he was having a hard time in preschool, and their parents would approach Gordon with concerns.

“If they understood autism, and if they were around this message of inclusion and understanding when they were in preschool, then I don’t know that we would have had to have those conversations,” she says.


Approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which means the chances that children will at least interact with an autistic child, especially once they reach school age, are very high. The visibility of four-year-old Julia helps autistic children know that they aren’t alone, often teaching them what “autism” means for the first time. She can also teach non-autistic children about the disorder, and how to be accepting.

“When you’re the parent of a kid with autism, you don’t ever leave it.”

Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, says reaching both of those groups of children was the goal, encouraging empathy and understanding.

“The response to Julia was so enormous,” Westin says, referring to Julia’s appearance online and in animated storybooks. “When we launch an initiative like Sesame Street and Autism, it’s ongoing. It means there’s an area that we believe we should be addressing. It means there’s an issue that’s significant in terms of its impact.” 

Bringing Julia to life, she says, means reaching even more children and families.