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Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! creators Mattel, Inc. have introduced the first-ever autistic character to the series with new Bruno the Brake Car.
The Bruno character, developed in collaboration with the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California as well as autistic writers and figures, is voiced by nine-year-old actor Elliott Garcia, who is autistic himself.
Autism (opens in new tab) is a developmental disability that affects how autistic people experience the world around them. There are at least 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means it affects everyone differently including how autistic people think, communicate and interact with the world.
Elliott, of Reading, Berkshire, says he feels “really excited and happy” to bring the seminal new Thomas & Friends (opens in new tab) character to life on-screen and Bruno will be seen in future episodes of the show on Channel 5 Milkshake! from Wednesday 21st September at 7am.
Describing the character Bruno, Elliot Garcia, who voices the new engine in the animated television series, said, “Bruno is a Brake Car, and he is a new friend for Thomas and his friends, and he’s also autistic, like me. He 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. Bruno loves schedules and timetables and when everything goes to plan.”
Bruno is described as a joyful, pun-making brake car. He is great at his job and keeps big, heavy cargo steady with his strong brakes - a vital role in ‘Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go!’. Bruno rolls in reverse at the end of the train, which gives him a unique perspective on the world.
Working with key partners Mattel has carefully curated Bruno's character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of autism. The new character is expected to bring a positive reaction unlike the Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon movie (opens in new tab) that made some children 'cry'.
Detail-oriented Bruno enjoys schedules, routine, and knows where all the tracks lead on Sodor. Bruno has stairs and a lantern on his bright, red exterior that indicate his emotional state, moving when he is excited or cautious.
Aside from hanging out in autism friendly spaces (opens in new tab), Bruno’s best day is one spent with his friends, who love and respect him for who he is, just as he loves them back. Through his on-screen presence, Bruno’s rich friendships and important work introduces audiences to a positive, neurodivergent role model.
Elliot continued, “He can flap his ladders to tell you if he’s upset or if he’s really excited, so he can use his items to show you how he’s feeling. His ear defenders, I do relate to, because if there’s a really loud noise, I can’t cope. I can get quite worried about things, I have to think of new strategies, same as Bruno. When I won the role of Bruno, I imagined that it was a dream, but it wasn’t! I felt really excited and happy. It’s great that they are representing autistic characters because I watch the Thomas & Friends series and for there to be an autistic character makes me feel very happy and excited.”
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And Bruno is so impressive that in the UK, the National Autistic Society, helped cast Elliott for his role in the series, and have given their wholehearted endorsement of the character of Bruno.
Tom Purser, head of guidance, volunteering and campaigns at the National Autistic Society, added, “It’s important that 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, but it’s also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic. What Elliot brings to this role is his joy and enthusiasm, his autistic experiences and he just brings the character to life.”
Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may: be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life difficult; be unable to or find it harder to speak, face delays processing information or find it hard to hold conversations; experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and social situations; or become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.
A key character within the Thomas & Friends franchise, Bruno’s introduction will span across all content with appearances in a YouTube series, music album, the Thomas & Friends Storytime podcast, the upcoming Mystery of Lookout Mountain special, and consumer products set to debut later this year.
Bruno will be seen on Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! on Channel 5 Milkshake! from 21st September at 7am. Brake Car Bruno™ is available now and will also be included in a range of products available later in the year.