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Thomas the Tank Engine has new autistic buddy

Elliott Gracia in a studio making a voiceover
Elliott Gracia in a studio making a voiceover Image credit: bbc.co.uk

Thomas the Tank Engine has a new friend which aims to put children on the right track to have a better understanding about people with disabilities.

Bruno the Brake Car is a new engine joining Thomas and the first character in the popular series with autism.

The voice behind the new arrival is nine-year-old Elliott Garcia who secured the role thanks to the National Autistic Society (NAS).

Gracia, from Reading, will not only be one of the few people connected with railways not to go on strike - he will also make his voiceover debut on Thomas & Friends from 21 September.

Mattel says Bruno’s character has been developed by working closely with “respected” autism charities.

When the engine puffs steam he has to wear ear defenders because the noise is too loud.

Gracia said when he was told he won the part he "imagined that it was a dream, but it wasn't".

"I felt really excited and happy. He [Bruno] is funny, smart, and he's a very relaxed character," he said.

"He can get really overwhelmed, he can get worried, and he uses comedy to get past situations.

"His ear defenders, I do relate to, 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 NAS, described the news 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.

"It's also important that non-autistic children get insight and understanding into what it can be like to be autistic," he added.

Mattel appreciates the character "could never encompass the real-life experience of every autistic person".

But it said it had "carefully curated Bruno's character to ensure an accurate fictional representation of autism".

Despite becoming the most popular character in The Railway Series, Thomas was not featured in the first book, The Three Railway Engines.