Sesame Street is diversifying its cast of friendly Muppets with a new character - Julia who is autistic.
Julia was first introduced to the world in 2015 as part of digital storybook called "Sesame Street and Autism: See the amazing in all children," and come April, she'll have a permanent role on the long-running children's show, as first reported by Vulture.
Julia's first appearance on "Sesame Street" involves a pivotal encounter with Big Bird. When Elmo and Abby Cadabby introduce Julia to the giant yellow bird, she's hesitant to shake his hand. Elmo then explains to Big Bird that Julia has autism and that "sometimes it takes her a little longer to do things." The four new friends subsequently learn to interact and play together in a new way.
"It's tricky because autism is not one thing," said Christine Ferraro, a writer for the series. "It is different for every single person who has autism."
The writers and team members were sensitive to the complexities of autism, consulting several different autism organizations and families who have autistic children, prior to creating Julia's character.
Furthermore, the decision to make Julia's character female was no accident. According to some researchers, autism is under-diagnosed in girls.
On "60 Minutes" Sunday night, correspondent Lesley Stahl visited the set of "Sesame Street" to introduce the newest muppet.
"In this particular case, it takes a lot of sensitivity," Stahl said. Stalh also interviewed Rollie Krewson, a puppet designer who says she created Julia's Muppet with sensitivity and careful attention to detail.
"Her eyes had to be a certain way because she has to have an intense look, but she has to look friendly," Krewson told Stahl. "Her hair had to be made so that her bangs weren't in her eyes and that her hair didn't fall into her mouth. And she couldn't have any adornments in her hair — no barrettes, no ribbons."
Stalh also added that the puppeteer who plays Julia, Stacey Gordon, is the mother of a child with autism.
"[I thought] it's so far out there, it's never going to happen. It's never going to happen," Gordon said. "As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that it had come out years before, when my own child was at the 'Sesame Street' age."
Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President for Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop, said she wanted Julia's character to be as true to reality as possible, while making the concept of autism not-so-taboo.
"Give children that information," Truglio said. "She's acting this way because she's on the autism spectrum."