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Meet AJ, a Superhero on the Autism Spectrum

Special double-episode of Hero Elementary to air on National Autism Awareness Day

April 1, 2021

By Katie Carpenter

Hero Elementary is a school for budding superheroes, where kids learn to master their innate powers, like flying and teleportation, while exploring science along the way.

AJ is a student at Hero Elementary who is full of passion for all things super: comic books, superheroes, and the gadgets they use. He also happens to be on the autism spectrum.

Cartoon superhero boy
AJ Gadgets

Hero Elementary double-episode special, AJ’s Extra Superpower

On National Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2021, Hero Elementary, a science + literacy Ready To Learn initiative developed by Twin Cities PBS, will be premiering an all-new double episode on PBS Kids nationwide.

Tune in to TPT 2 on Friday, April 2:
9:00 am CT – “AJ’s Extra Superpower” parts 1 + 2
3:00 pm CT – “AJ’s Extra Superpower” parts 1 + 2


In the double-episode special, AJ’s Extra Superpower, AJ’s autism will be addressed for the first time in the series.  Those familiar with autism may have recognized some of AJ’s traits: his sensitivity to loud noise, scents, and his high attention to details. However, the series creators were intent on avoiding labels, having him be just part of the team, a regular guy – who just happened to have autism.

The series aims to give children ages 4 to 7 the tools to solve problems by thinking and acting like scientists and igniting their natural curiosity. It also aims to ignite empathy.

In a study conducted among 5-8 year olds, most of the children had not heard of autism or they had a misunderstanding of what it was.  But after watching Hero Elementary, children’s understanding of autism grew and their views of autism changed positively.

Hero Elementary was created by Carol-Lynn Parente and Christine Ferraro, the two women who were also instrumental in launching Sesame Street’s autism initiative. They believe that AJ, a key member of Sparks’ Crew in the series, is critical to allowing the audience to get to know someone who might do things differently than they do. 

Hero Elementary

The Sparks’ Crew use their superpowers of science to help investigate, observe, and figure out solutions.

Diverse media representation is at the heart of the show. The creators shared,“By embracing diversity and modeling inclusion to children at an early age, we have the ability to raise a generation of adults where there are no labels and we can get closer to achieving a vision of true inclusion, just as Sparks’ Crew realizes the things that make us different are the things that make us special.”

Frank Capagna, aka “Autism Daddy,” was asked to be an advisor on the project. In his article for PBS Kids titled, Meet the Hero Elementary Character With Autism, he shares, “This subtle, but powerful message will shift the autism narrative in mainstream media. In my humble opinion, Hero Elementary has everything going for it: fun engaging characters, science and literacy focused curriculum, the best creative minds involved in it, and it’s about superheroes! I’m thrilled that parents have this amazing show to share with their children.”

Everyone has a superpower, and even though each person’s strength is different, it is important to recognize the value of every individual’s superpower in helping save the day!

Make your own gadgets!

Hero Elementary Gadget Gurus (.pdf download)

Hero Elementary Puppets (.pdf download in English)

Hero Elementary Puppets (.pdf download in Spanish)

Hero Elementary Superhero Cuffs (.pdf download)


Chance to win Hero Elementary Swag


Cameron Goes to School Storytime with author Sheletta Brundidge

Cameron will soon be starting kindergarten and her whole family is nervous. How will they manage without her when she goes off to school? This sweet and funny story starring a young African-American girl with autism will help all kids-and their families-face the great big wonderful change that is school.

“Cameron Goes to School,” is written by Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota author who was inspired by the true story of her daughter Cameron. She hopes that Cameron’s courage in the story will help friends better understand someone in their life who is on the autism spectrum.

“Cameron Goes to School,” is written by Sheletta Brundidge, a Minnesota author who was inspired by the true story of her daughter Cameron. She hopes that Cameron’s courage in the story will help friends better understand someone in their life who is on the autism spectrum. Get a copy of the book on Amazon.

Thanks to Sheletta for sharing these facts about autism and a fun coloring sheet of Cameron!

Autism Facts (.pdf)

Cameron Coloring Page (.pdf)


Join us at BE MY NEIGHBOR DAY!
Be My Neighbor Day
Saturday, April 24
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Location: Online and broadcast

Join us for the 6th annual Be My Neighbor Day event! The entire event will be virtual so there are plenty of opportunities to participate at home!

RSVP today!

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2021. All rights reserved.

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