Young viewers and their families will soon meet a Sesame Street Muppet who's a little different than the ones they already know when the long-running children's show introduces Julia, who has autism.
60 Minutes offered a preview of Julia on Sunday's episode when correspondent Lesley Stahlvisited the Sesame Street set while Julia's first episode was being filmed. Writer Christine Ferraro told Stahl that it's important for the show to normalize autism for children, especially since autism spectrum diagnoses have skyrocketed in the past 20 years or so. But she acknowledged it was a challenge to figure out exactly how to present it.
So in Julia's introductory episode, they're working to help audiences understand when a kid with autism doesn't behave in a typical way by having Elmo and Abby Cadabby explain why Julia didn't respond when Big Bird talked to her.
Julia was first introduced in an online-only animated short in 2015. When it was decided she'd be joining the physical world, puppeteer Stacey Gordon was hired to bring her to life. It's a very personal job for Gordon, whose son has autism.
"It's important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like," said Gordon. "Had my son's friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that's OK."
Julia will make three appearances during the current season of Sesame Street and her role will expand as the show continues.
First-run episodes of Sesame Street air on HBO and later run on PBS.
"It's tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism," Ferraro said. "There is an expression that goes, 'If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.'"