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A superhero kid with autism shines in new PBS Kids’ series

  • PBS KIDS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Characters from the TV series “Hero Elementary,” from left, Lucita Sky, Benny Bubbles, Sara Snap and AJ Gadgets, a superhero who has the ability to make super gadgets – and who also happens to be on the Autism spectrum.

    PBS KIDS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Characters from the TV series “Hero Elementary,” from left, Lucita Sky, Benny Bubbles, Sara Snap and AJ Gadgets, a superhero who has the ability to make super gadgets – and who also happens to be on the Autism spectrum.

NEW YORK >> There’s a new crop of superheroes on 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.

“We feel like there is so much strength in the idea of portraying a kid on the spectrum as just one of the kids and not making a huge deal about his autism,” said Christine Ferraro, who co-created the series with Carol-Lynn Parente.

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.

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 premiered June 1 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.

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