The Disney Junior series Fancy Nancy is taking strides in representation when it comes to children’s programming with an upcoming episode titled “Nancy’s New Friend” which will feature a character who is autistic. The episode will debut on April 2 which is timed to World Autism Awareness Day.
The idea for the episode came from a video of an 11-year-old autistic boy named George Yionoulis discovered by series writer Matt Hoverman, who was initially inspired by his sister for the episode. Yionoulis and his mother created the video for his fourth-grade class to explain to them how it is to be autistic.
In this episode, Nancy tries to make a new friend in Lionel’s cousin, Sean, who is voiced by Yionoulis. “Nancy gets confused when Sean doesn’t respond to her in the way she expects,” Fancy Nancy co-producer/head writer, Krista Tucker told Deadline. “Lionel explains that Sean is autistic and this means his brain works differently than others.” The episode features Lionel giving Nancy tips on how to better approach Sean and the two slowly begin to connect.
“We hope this episode will help our viewers understand that there are sensitivities to be mindful of when engaging with someone who has autism,” said Tucker. “People with autism may act in ways we feel are different, and that’s okay—they’re just being who they are. In a world where so many children interact with kids who have autism, this kind of understanding creates compassion, tolerance and friendship. Most importantly, it creates a world that is kind and accepting of all of us.”
To bring even more authenticity to the episode, Autism Speaks and RespectABILITY consulted on the story.
RespectABILITY’s Elaine Hall adds, “My hope is that this episode of ‘Nancy’s New Friend’ will help children and their parents understand autism as a different way of being, rather than as something weird, or wrong or to be afraid of.”
Hall, who is also the founder and director of The Miracle Project, continued to say that “Nancy’s New Friend” demonstrates true compassion and empathy in that by understanding another’s experience and point of view we can create true connection.
Lisa Goring, Chief Strategic Initiatives and Innovation Officer For Autism Speaks, adds “Characters like Sean show that all children are incredible in their own ways and with the support of their community, each child can reach their full potential.”
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