Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Thomas the Tank Engine introduces first ever autistic character

Nine-year-old Elliot Garcia, who is autistic, will voice the first ever autistic character in the Thomas the Tank Engine series: Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go.

Bruno is a brake car with a bright red exterior. He has two sets of ladders which he can flap up and down to tell you if he is upset or excited, and a lantern to indicate his emotional state.

Bruno also has ear defenders which he can use if he is in an environment which is too loud. He rolls in reverse at the end of the train which gives him a unique perspective of the world.

A unique perspective of the world

The National Autistic Society (NAS) have been working with the Thomas and Friends brand for years to develop an autistic character and cast the right person for the role.

The NAS say Bruno’s rich friendships and important work introduces audiences to a positive, neurodivergent role model.

Elliot says he relates to Bruno and is very “happy and excited” that an autistic character will feature on the show.

“[Bruno] is funny, smart, and is a very relaxed character. He can get really overwhelmed, he can get worried, and he uses comedy to get past situations. Bruno loves schedules and timetables and when everything goes to plan.

“His ear defenders, I do relate to, because if there is a really loud noise, I cannot cope. I can get quite worried about things, I have to think of new strategies, same as Bruno,” Elliot said.

“It is great that they are representing autistic characters because I watch the Thomas and Friends series and for there to be an autistic character makes me feel very happy and excited,” he added.

Increasing disability representation in the media

There are 700,000 autistic people in the UK, 160,000 of which are school-aged children. Tom Purser, Head of Guidance, Volunteering and Campaigns at the NAS says these children want to see their stories told.

“It is also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic,” he said. “What Elliot brings to this role is his joy and enthusiasm, his autistic experiences and he just brings the character to life.”

“This is a real moment for autism because the history of autistic children and their relationship with the Thomas and Friends brand has been massive and I think to really recognise the importance of reflecting neurodiversity and autism in Thomas and Friends series is an amazing moment for Mattel, for the Thomas and Friends brand, and for autistic people,” he added.

However, the NAS warns that while Bruno thoughtfully reflects the traits and preferences of some autistic people, one character cannot encompass all the real-life experiences of autistic people.

Nevertheless, the introduction of Bruno is a step in the right direction to achieving better disability representation in the media and showcasing neurodiverse identities.

Christopher Keenan, Senior Vice President and Executive Producer, Global Content Development and Production at Mattel, said: “Bruno’s introduction organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming.

“So much care and thought went into the development of his character, and we cannot wait for audiences to meet and love Bruno as much as we do.”

Bruno the brake car will make his debut on ‘Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go!’ on Channel 5 Milkshake! from Wednesday 21st September at 7.00am.

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