Superhero Kid with Autism On New PBS Kids’ “Hero Elementary” Series (Trailer)
There’s a new crop of superheroes coming to our TV this summer but they may need a little seasoning. After all, they’re only in elementary school.
The PBS Kids’ animated series, “Hero Elementary,” is set inside a grade school where a diverse group of four superhero students are learning to master their special powers.
There’s a kid who can fly but is afraid of heights. There’s a girl with the power to teleport and a boy who creates forcefields of bubbles. Plus there’s a boy with an array of cool gadgets who is on the autism spectrum.
The creators have been subtle about how they’ve portrayed the character of AJ Gadgets, who is on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. AJ doesn’t like loud noises or wet clothes or to be apart from his beloved backpack. But he’s part of the team and always comes to the rescue.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that one in 54 kids were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 in 2016, a nearly 10% increase over 2014 when the estimate was 1 in 59.
The series leans into scientific principles as the characters confront various missions, like dealing with a huge ball rolling through the city, or taking care of a just-hatched baby swan. A helpful teacher encourages them to keep finding solutions even if they don’t succeed at first, teaching such skills as observing, investigating, testing and predicting.
Linda Simensky, head of content at PBS Kids, said she was drawn to AJ’s inclusion and the show’s message of kids solving their own problems.
Ferraro and Parente are longtime veterans of “Sesame Street,” which in 2015 introduced Julia, a 4-year-old girl Muppet with autism. They didn’t initially intend to have a child with autism on “Hero Elementary,” but as they fleshed out AJ’s character it started to make sense.
AJ’s teammates are aware of his needs and preferences, in one episode they desperately search for his lost backpack, and the show’s creators hope the show can teach empathy and normalize the idea that all kids are different.
The series is designed for children ages 4-7, and premieres Monday on PBS stations, the PBS Kids 24/7 channel and PBS Kids digital platforms. Each episode runs about 11 minutes, with vibrant colors and a zany touch.
Viewers familiar with autism and the signs of autism might pick up on AJ’s behavior, but the creators are fine if other viewers don’t notice. They’ve purposely not directly addressed autism except for a double episode slated to run later in the series. Most of the time they just want him to be part of the group.