In The Politics of Autism, I discuss depictions of ASD in popular culture.
A release from Mattel:
Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAT) announced today the introduction of Bruno, the first autistic character in the iconic Thomas & Friends franchise. Mattel Television developed Bruno in collaboration with respected organizations including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and Easterseals Southern California, as well as writers and spokespeople with autism including Daniel Share-Strom and Aaron Likens. Voiced by Chuck Smith, an autistic actor, the new series regular will make his debut on the Season 26 premiere of Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go on Monday, September 12 at 8:30 am ET/PT on Cartoonito on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and on September 17 at 8:50 am ET/PT on Treehouse and STACKTV in Canada.
Bruno is 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. 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. 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. Together with key partners, Mattel carefully curated Bruno’s character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of an autistic child in the real world.
“The most important aspect of Bruno's development was getting autistic input throughout the process of creating the character and his interactions with his world,” said Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). “It was great to be able to contribute to that as part of a team of consultants from ASAN. Autistic people have been involved in all aspects of creating Bruno, from us as consultants to writers on the show and Bruno's voice actor—this makes Bruno ring true as an autistic character. I hope that Bruno will provide viewers with meaningful examples of inclusion in everyday life."
Experts from ASAN and Easterseals Southern California, alongside the creative and writing team at Mattel Television, leveraged years of experience dedicated to the understanding of autism to respectfully and artistically create an accurate, on-screen representation. Through their hard work, dedication and care, Bruno opens the door for global audiences in a way Thomas & Friends has never done before.
“Our commitment and contributions alongside Mattel have ensured that an honest version of Bruno is what kids and families across the world will experience,” said Dr. Paula Pompa Craven, Chief Clinical Officer at Easterseals Southern California. “Audiences will be able to see the real-life experiences of an autistic child through Bruno, including opportunities to learn and grow alongside him as he demonstrates his ability to give and receive support from his friends.”
While Bruno thoughtfully reflects the traits and preferences of some autistic people, one animated character could never encompass the real-life experience of every autistic person. 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’s introduction organically embraces a global audience that is underrepresented and deserves to be celebrated in children’s programming,” said Christopher Keenan, Senior Vice President & Executive Producer, Global Content Development and Production at Mattel. “So much care and thought went into the development of his character, and we can’t wait for audiences to meet and love Bruno as much as we do.”