"Sesame Street" residents are used to neighbors of all kinds, from enormous Big Bird to grouchy Oscar. But the iconic PBS show is about to add another Muppet, Julia, whose character has autism.
"60 Minutes" delivered a sneak preview of Julia on Sunday's show. (Disclosure: CBS, which airs "60 Minutes," is CNET's parent company.) And "Sesame Street" has unloaded numerous videos of Julia to its YouTube channel, including one in which she shows a fascination with bubbles, and another where it's explained that Julia sometimes flaps her arms when she's excited. She's even been built with two sets of arms that can be switched out, one specially built for flapping.
In Julia's very first scene, Big Bird is confused when she doesn't look up from painting to greet him, opening the door for the characters to explain children with autism may exhibit different behaviors than others. Julia's puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, has a son with autism herself.
"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," Gordon told "60 Minutes" reporter Lesley Stahl. "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."
The cast and crew of the show were very concerned about portraying autism carefully.
"It's tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism," "Sesame" writer Christine Ferraro told Stahl. "There is an expression that goes, 'If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.'"
Ferraro said that by depicting a Muppet with autism on the show, the hope is that children will have a better understanding of the autistic children they meet.
"So that when they encounter them in their real life, it's familiar," she said. "And they see that these (children) can be their friends too."
Julia will make her "Sesame Street" debut sometime in April, which is National Autism Awareness Month.
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