Bruno, a “joyful, pun-making brake car,” will make his debut this month, US toy giant Mattel said in a press release.
The new series regular will be voiced by autistic actors Chuck Smith, 10, and Elliot Garcia, 9, in the US and the UK, respectively, the company said.
Garcia, from Reading, England, expressed his delight at winning the role, adding that he was “really excited and happy” about autistic characters being represented in the beloved animated series.
“He (Bruno) is funny, smart, and he’s a very relaxed character. He can get really overwhelmed, he can get worried, and he uses comedy to get past situations,” Garcia said of the character.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with autism can have social and communication difficulties as well as repetitive behaviors or restricted interests.
In a 2017 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that over 2% of US adults were living with autism.
Mattel developed the character of Bruno with the help of autistic writers and organizations in the United States and Europe, including the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the UK’s National Autistic Society.
Christopher Keenan, Senior VP President & Executive Producer at Mattel, said the move “organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming.”
He added that “care and thought” went into creating an accurate fictional representation of an autistic child.
Bruno’s characteristics include a lantern to indicate his emotional state and ear defenders that can puff steam if he feels sensitive to loud noises, Mattel said. “He also knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor and has a preference for schedules and routines.”
Garcia said he can relate to Bruno’s ear defenders “because if there’s a really loud noise, I can’t cope. I have to think of new strategies, same as Bruno.”
Tom Purser, from the National Autistic Society, hailed Bruno’s introduction as a “real moment for autism”.
“It’s so important everyone sees autistic characters on our screens because there are 160,000 school-age autistic children in the UK and they want to see their stories told,” he said.
“It’s also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic.”
Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at Autism Self Advocacy Network, said she hoped Bruno will “provide viewers with meaningful examples of inclusion in everyday life.”
Season 26 of “Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go” premieres on September 12 in the US and September 21 in the UK.