Sesame Street is welcoming a new resident to the neighborhood. On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, it was revealed that the daytime children’s staple will introduce Julia, the series’ first-ever character with autism, sometime in April. She made her print debut in the digital storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” in October 2015 and thus has existed in the Sesame Street universe for more than a year.
Julia’s TV debut—played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, who has a child with autism—comes after the Sesame Street creative team spoke with a range of people close to autism, including families, educators, and organizations, in order to determine how best to present the character to a preschool audience. The process took years. “In the U.S., 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. social impact, told the Associated Press. “We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We’re modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share.” Christine Ferraro, a writer on the show, added on 60 Minutes that “it’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism.”
Julia’s first scene in the show nicely reflects the team’s research and sensitive approach. In it, Elmo and Abby Cadabby introduce her to Big Bird, but she initially neglects to shake his hand. Elmo helps provide context to Big Bird, explaining that because Julia has autism, “sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things.” The four then learn how to get along and have fun together.
We’ll look out for Julia’s debut next month. Until then, you can watch a clip of 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl speaking with Rollie Krewson, the puppet designer who carefully thought through Julia’s appearance and mannerisms.