Sesame Street debuts character with autism

Sesame Street debuts character with autism
© Courtesy "60 Minutes"

CBS’s “60 Minutes” introduced a new “Sesame Street” Muppet named Julia, who will debut on the children’s educational show next month.

Christine Ferraro, a “Sesame Street” writer for more than two decades, told “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl that Julia is meant to expose the show’s young viewers to children with autistic traits.

“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism. There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,’ ” Ferraro said.

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The purpose of the character is “so that, when [children] encounter [people with disabilities] in their real life, it's familiar. And they see that these — these can be their friends, too,” she added.

On the premiere episode, Big Bird holds out his wing out to shake hands with Julia, who does not respond. That becomes a teaching moment for the characters on the show.

Julia first appeared in a digital storybook in 2015 called "We're Amazing, 1,2,3.”

Sesame Street worked with autism organizations including Autism Self Advocacy and Autism Speaks to best personify the traits of a child with autism, according to “60 Minutes.” Julia’s character aims to combat stigmas associated with autism spectrum disorder as diagnoses of autism have grown. 

“Sesame Street” started in 1969 as a experiment to see whether a television show could educate young children.

Julia is one of the multiple characters the show has added to reach out to specific communities of children, such as kids with same-sex parents, military families and kids with an incarcerated parent.

“Sesame Street” is produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, funding for which has been targeted by President Trump’s recently released budget blueprint.