14 Aug 2007

Autism and Thomas trains

A few weeks back, the NAS were promoting a small survey they'd commissioned about Thomas the Tank Engine and autism. It was mentioned in the Guardian, and on the NAS site. A PDF of the report is available here.

Not surprisingly, given the names on our blog and what any regular reader knows about my son, when I saw the questionnaire on the NAS site and in their newsletter, I decided to respond. I'd imagine many others also took part because their autistic children are so into Thomas, so it's not exactly unbiased!

Anyway, it's interesting to read and here are a few quotes from the PDF report.

The research
A survey with parents of children with autism under the age of 10 was launched on the NAS’s website in April 2007 with nearly 750 people taking part. Ten telephone and face-to-face interviews were also conducted with parents of children with autism aged between four and nine years old. Four parents in England, two in Wales, two in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland took part.

Summary of research findings
Some of the main findings are:
• In a comparison with other popular children’s characters, Thomas & Friends was the most popular, with nearly 90% of children liking it ‘very much’.
• Many parents felt that Thomas & Friends played a significant part in their child’s early learning and development – in particular numbers, colours and language.
• Some children in the study have been able to learn basic facial expressions and emotions from Thomas & Friends.
• Parents have been able to use Thomas & Friends’ ‘language’ to communicate with their child where ordinary language has failed.
• Almost 39% of parents reported that their child’s interest in Thomas & Friends lasted over two years longer than siblings’ interest in the character.
• Highly important aspects of the relationship for parents were the feeling of safety and security Thomas & Friends provides for children and its calming effect.

Some, well seemingly many, autistic children just really like the Thomas stuff and learn from it. This is intrinsic learning in action. It demonstrates that you don't need to have a marketed therapy to get through to your child, you just need to see what interests them and go from there together. Now if anyone tries to market 'Thomas Therapy TM' I'll scream!

Some of the quotes in the report include;

“Thomas & Friends has definitely been one of the elements that has helped him to recognise human facial expressions and to label his own emotions.”
Parent of seven year old with autism.


Their intense interest in Thomas & Friends seems to have been of some help in enabling children with autism and their siblings to interact, even if this is only that they watch a Thomas & Friends DVD together.

“R will play alongside his brother and sister with the trains and tracks. His sister will tell a story with the trains and sometimes R will join in but I don’t think he really understands. He prefers to go over the same stories from the DVDs. He does like to crash the trains into each other with his brother though!”
Parent of seven year old with autism.


Communication connection
Interestingly, some parents have found that they can communicate with their child and manage their behaviour using Thomas & Friends’ language and terminology, where ‘ordinary’ language has failed.
“We use lots of Thomas language to communicate with B and get him to do things, such as a ‘washdown’ for a bath, telling him he’s ‘really useful’, ‘chugging up’ to bed, and ‘red light’ or ‘the signal is up’ for no or stop.”
Parent of four year old with high-functioning autism

Any of the above sound familiar! :-)
I like that last quote too, it's stuff that we do. That 4 year old's parent and me would just 'get' each others ways of interacting with our children.

1 comment:

dottyspots said...

Both of my older boys (both dx. Aspergers/ASD) loved Thomas when they were younger (well, my 11 year old still does, having quite a few Thomas train toys as models on his shelves now - he no longer plays with them).