First Autistic Lead Character on PBS Kids to Debut in 2024
January 02, 2024
By: Sherri Alms
PBS Kids is bringing its first autistic lead character to tv screens this coming fall in a series named for the that character, “Carl the Collector.” In the PBS Kids press release, Carl is described as “a warm-hearted autistic raccoon who loves collecting things. His talents – a laser-focus pursuit of his goals, attention to detail, and a distinctive way of looking at and experiencing the world around him – have helped him amass a collection for just about every occasion (e.g., the perfect fake mustache or a soft plushie for a friend in need), and come in handy for solving problems around the neighborhood with his friends. Carl has a lot of energy and is logical and precise, yet he often struggles with anxiety in new situations and has difficulty when things don’t go according to plan. Like all his friends, he is learning that there is no right or wrong way to be himself.”
New York Times best-selling illustrator and author Zachariah OHora created the new series, which is aimed at kids ages 4 to 8. In the press release, he said he hopes Carl and his friends “will inspire neurodiverse and neurotypical kids alike to foster a world in which neurodiversity is not only recognized as a benefit to society, but is celebrated as exemplifying the full spectrum of what it means to be human.”
Carl is not the only neurodiverse character on the show. Lotta, a fox who is a quiet, self-assured artist and musician, is also autistic and hypersensitive to loud sounds, powerful smells, and certain food textures. Other friends include Sheldon, Carl’s best friend who is a beaver with a knack for connecting people and looking out for the underdog; Nico and Arugula, rabbit sisters who look identical but have very different personalities; and Forrest, a hyperactive, adventurous, and impulsive squirrel with a tree nut allergy. As the press release noted, all of the characters who live in Fuzzytown are learning about themselves and each other.
The producers assembled a team that includes neurodiverse and neurotypical writers, advisors, and voice talent, including Stephen Shore, Ed.D., who serves on OAR’s Board of Directors. “As an autistic person, I continue to be amazed at the level of detail and effort the team expends to assure that Carl and Lotta are authentic to the autistic experience,” he said. Dr. Shore also said in the press release that he plans to use excerpts from the show to supplement his university teaching and presentations. Autistic advocate and actress Ava X. Rigelhaupt is one of the contributing writers.
Other advisors include Geraldine Oades-Sese, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist, children’s book author, and adjunct associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Deborah Farmer Kris, M.A., educator, author, parenting columnist, and consultant for PBS KIDS for Parents.
“It is about time for a children’s show like ‘Carl the Collector,’ which embraces the diversity of children’s experiences and showcases an inclusive and relatable world,” said Dr. Oades-Sese. “The show doesn’t shy away from having its main characters experience common mental health challenges such as anxiety, fear, sadness, and the need for acceptance and belonging.”
Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.