April has a lot to offer when it comes to autism awareness and acceptance. In case you missed some of these special PBS shows, never fear! They are still available for you and your family to watch via streaming. So pop a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Max
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” introduced Max, who is the autistic nephew of Teacher Harriet. He is the first autistic character on the show, according to an article on Yahoo. Max enjoys numbers, buses, and bugs, notes the article, and is close to his sister, Amira, who is older than he is. A People.com article notes that Max needs a little extra time to get used to new people and experiences and may like playing on his own better. He’s also sensitive to certain stimuli like uncomfortable fabrics, loud sounds, and bright flashing lights.
Israel Thomas-Bruce, 13 and in the eighth grade, voices Max. Thomas-Bruce was diagnosed with autism when he was 4. “It was exciting to play Max because it gave me the opportunity to help shed light on children living with autism,” Thomas-Bruce said in an article on RespectAbility. “I am excited to know that another child can see Max on TV and see himself being represented. I felt at ease playing Max because it didn’t feel like I was pretending. I also like that Max looks like me.”
Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum: Temple Grandin (Guest)
In an episode on “Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum,” viewers will meet a character who might seem quite familiar to adults: Temple Grandin, well-known advocate. The show’s three main characters, Xavier, Yadina, and Brad, travel back in time to meet her as a kid, hoping she will help them to better understand their new autistic school mate, Ben. Of course, Grandin comes through and gives the trio the insight they need to befriend Ben. In an interview with Grandin on the DisabilityScoop website, she discusses her role on the show and importance of autism representation in children’s programming.
Hero Elementary: AJ Gadgets
Another show on PBS that is getting good reviews is “Hero Elementary,” which debuted in June 2020. AJ Gadgets, one of a group of superhero students with extra special powers, is autistic. But that’s not his superpower. His superpower is being able to think and understand things in really cool ways, according to an article on Fatherly.com. As Christine Ferraro, one of the show’s creators, noted in an article on the PBS website, “…One of the strengths of the way we treat AJ’s autism on the show is that we don’t make a big deal about it. AJ is high-functioning, and has mannerisms, sensitivities and interests that show his autism, but they are not usually pointed out or the center of focus…But for most of the episodes, his autism is just a part of who he is: a valuable member of the team, and a friend everyone cares about.”
Sesame Workshop: Julia
Sesame Workshop debuted new videos and activities starring Julia, an autistic 4-year-old Muppet, for World Autism Awareness Day. They are available for free in English and Spanish on SesameStreet.org. According to an article on the Red Tricycle website, the resources “help children and families to cope with changes in routines and other uncertain scenarios.” As described in a DisabilityScoop article, in the online videos, Julia along with her family and her “Sesame Street” friends work through various obstacles like a pizza that arrives with the wrong topping and a picnic that gets rained out. A storybook and interactive game explore similar themes while articles for parents provide strategies to help children deal with these kinds of changes in plans and routines.