An illustration showing the cute characters from Carl the Collector. Carl is at center. He is flanked by Sheldon the beaver, Forrest the squirrel, Nico and Arugula the bunnies, and Lotta the fox. All are in the front yard of a house with flowering trees and bushes.
Clinical associate professor Stephen Shore, EdD, is an adviser on Carl the Collector, an animated series about characters on the autism spectrum that will premiere on PBS KIDS. (Image: Copyright Fuzzytown Productions, LLC)

A new TV show, Carl the Collector, will be the first PBS animated series starring a character on the autism spectrum. Stephen Shore, EdD, clinical associate professor, who is on the spectrum himself and is a globally recognized expert on autism from the Ruth S. Ammon College of Education and Health Sciences, was called in to advise.

Children’s television has never seen an animated character like Carl. He’s a raccoon, and he’s on the autism spectrum

Helping bring him into homes is Stephen Shore, EdD, clinical associate professor in the Ruth S. Ammon College of Education and Health Sciences. Dr. Shore, who is himself on the spectrum, is serving as an adviser to the creators of Carl the Collector, an animated series scheduled to premiere on PBS KIDS in Fall 2024.

Dr. Shore is known internationally for his efforts to change perspectives on neurodiversity, directing attention to the abilities and potential of neurodiverse individuals and away from their deficits. It is a mission he is carrying into his work on the television show.

“We want to show kids that being neurodivergent is a benefit,” he said.

A New Kind of Children’s Television Star

Stephen Shore, in an argyle vest and smiling with his hands clasped.

Stephen Shore, EdD, clinical associate professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education and Health Sciences

Created by New York Times bestselling illustrator and author Zachariah OHora, Carl the Collector follows the adventures of a neurodivergent and neurotypical group of animals in Fuzzytown led by a raccoon who is laser-focused on his goals of collecting watches, yo-yos, rope, toothbrushes and other objects. The show is geared to children 4 to 8 years old.

Dr. Shore said Carl’s focus reflects his own experience.

“Autistic people often collect things,” he explained. “I had plenty of collections when I was an autistic kid and now, as an autistic adult, I still have collections.”

Collecting is just one of the details that Dr. Shore is helping the show’s creators weave into the script. Showing the many facets of neurodiverse individuals is a goal, Dr. Shore said. Seeing the nuances of the characters shows that there is no right or wrong way to be yourself—and that all personality types have value.

“We want to educate people about the benefits of neurodiversity and reduce its stigma,” he said. “But we also want to be realistic about the very real challenges that come with being neurodivergent, autistic or having ADHD.”

Keeping the show “authentic to the autistic experience”

Carl’s animal friends in Fuzzytown include Sheldon, a big-hearted beaver with a knack for connecting people; Forrest, a squirrel with ADHD and tree-nut allergies; Nico and Arugula, twin bunny sisters who look alike but have entirely different personalities; and Lotta the fox, a quiet, confident artist who is on the spectrum.

“It’s good to have Lotta in the show because females are very underdiagnosed for autism,” Dr. Shore said. “And it’s also good to show a female version of autism which is very different from Carl’s version of autism.”

Dr. Shore works with the show’s creators at every step, from the first to the final draft of the scripts; to the “animatics,” which run scenes in black and white at six frames a second; to the rough cuts that closely resemble the final version of the video. With the show’s premiere still nearly a year away, Dr. Shore has yet to see sizzle reels, a trailer or final cuts of show episodes. “The show is still in its very, very early stages,” he said. PBS has ordered 80 episodes, he explained, so the network has made a significant commitment to the series.

Carl the Collector values inclusion and empathy, while modeling relationship-building and social skill development, wrapped up in humor, heart and incredible visual design,” Sara DeWitt, PBS KIDS’ senior vice president and general manager, said in a press release. “We are excited for children to get to know Carl and his group of friends, who believe that the best experiences occur when we honor the things that make each of us unique.”

Dr. Shore has been impressed by the attention to detail. “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. “In addition to being an interesting series, Carl the Collector will become a great tool for both autistic and nonautistic people to gain insight on autism.”

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