Julia, The First Muppet With Autism, Is About To Make Her Debut On "Sesame Street"
"It's important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like."
The newest Muppet friend on Sesame Street is Julia, a 4-year-old who likes to sing and also has autism.
The show announced in 2015 that Julia would be joining the crew in an online initiative. Now Julia is making her debut on the small screen in April.
Christine Ferraro, a writer on Sesame Street, has been working on the show for 25 years.
She told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl that the show decided to introduce an autistic character because of the increase in diagnoses of the condition of the past few decades.
She and the rest of the staff wanted to teach kids more about their friends with autism, so they can learn how to interact with them better.
"So that when they encounter them in their real life it's familiar. And they see that these — these can be their friends too," she told Stahl.
Julia is really nice and loves to sing, but she may not react the way other kids expect. For example, when the rest of the Muppets introduce themselves, Julia doesn't respond.
Some other things that make Julia unique are that she is sensitive to loud noises, and she jumps up and down when she is excited.
In the first episode featuring Julia, she does just that — hops up and down. The rest of the Muppets join her, and make a game out of it.
"So it was a very easy way to show that with a very slight accommodation they can meet her where she is," Ferraro told Stahl.
In another clip, another Muppet turns Julia's tendency to flap her arms into a way to pretend to be butterflies.
Julia is played by puppeteer Stacey Gordon, herself a mother of a son with autism. Gordon told Stahl she traveled to New York from her home in Arizona to audition for the part.
She said the fact that an autistic character is being included on the show is "huge."
"It means that our kids are important enough to be seen in society," she told 60 Minutes. "Having Julia on the show and seeing all of the characters treat her with compassion."
She said that she hopes that kids will better understand autistic children like her son after seeing Julia on the show.
"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," she said. "They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that's okay."
She added: "It's important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like."