Thomas the Tank Engine will feature the first autistic character | Television & radio

Thomas the Tank Engine will get its first autistic character in the latest move to diversify on-screen representation in the hit TV series.

Bruno the Brake Car, voiced by nine-year-old autistic actor Elliott Garcia from Reading in the UK, will start appearing in episodes of the latest Thomas & Friends series from the end of the month.

Mattel, the American toy giant behind franchises such as Barbie and Hot Wheels, which acquired Thomas the Tank Engine in 2011, said it “carefully curated the character of Bruno to ensure an accurate fictional representation of autism “.

The company says Bruno rides in reverse at the end of the train – “giving him a unique perspective on the world” – and likes the schedules, the routine, the timings and “when everything goes according to plan”.

Bruno can signify to other characters that he is overwhelmed, worried, or excited by “waving his scales” and has a lantern to “indicate his emotional state”. He sometimes wears earmuffs when there is a loud noise.

Bruno the Brake Car will have “a unique perspective on the world”. Photography: Mattel

Mattel worked with organizations such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network and National Autistic Society UK (NAS UK), which helped Garcia cast Bruno, to bring the character to the show, which is popular with many autistic children.

The company said its collaborative efforts mean “Bruno is opening the door to a global audience”, with the character also set to appear in a YouTube series, music album, Thomas & Friends Storytime podcast and an upcoming TV special. as well as a range of merchandise due to launch later this year.

Mattel – which has taken steps in recent years to diversify the series by introducing more feminine and ethnically diverse trains, such as Nia from Kenya, Ashima from India and Yong Bao from China – admitted that Bruno might not resonate with all viewers.

“While Bruno thoughtfully reflects the traits and preferences of some autistic people, an animated character could never encompass the real-life experience of every autistic person,” the company said.

NAS UK said that with 700,000 adults and children with autism across the country, the inclusion of a character on the show was an “amazing moment for people with autism”.

“It’s important that everyone sees autistic characters on our screens because there are 160,000 school-age children with autism in the UK and they want to see their stories told,” said guidance manager Tom Purser. , volunteering and the association’s campaigns.

“But it’s also important that children without autism have insight and an understanding of what it can be like to be autistic.”

Other popular children’s television series have taken similar steps in recent years to improve on-screen representation. In 2020, the hit show Paw Patrol featured a disabled pup called Rex, although he only appeared sporadically.