Thomas Takes Autistic Children Down New Learning Tracks; CHILDRENS' TV: Classic Character's Friendly Face and Simplistic Approach Helps Children's Early Development

Article excerpt

THOMAS the Tank Engine does more than just entertain youngsters - it enhances the development of autistic children, claims a report today.

Experts believe the TV show's "calm and clear" narration, along with its easy to follow storylines and bold colours means autistic children associate with Thomas more than any other children's character.

His friendly face, with his exaggerated smile, also helps autistic childrens' understanding of emotion as his expressions are set for some time during the show and can be understood.

The National Autistic Society report concludes that Thomas acts as an "initial point of entry" into realms as vital as speech, emotion and imagination.

It found 57pc of autistic children associate with Thomas more than any other children's character and described him as a comfort blanket resource for children who experience difficulty in making friends.

In a poll of 81 parents 10pc said the character was a substitute friend for their children and may even remain a friend when security is needed in the teenage years.

One mother said, "I haven't tried to move him on from Thomas because Thomas was his friend when he was sad and low and sometimes still is."

Around a third of parents consider their children to have an "obsessive" relationship with the character.

But around a quarter found interest in Thomas as a "gateway" to learning, primarily around colours, numbers and language, which is late to develop and sometimes entirely absent in children with autism.

The learning of facial expressions and emotions from Thomas was mentioned by 8pc of parents, with many children also learning to extract meaning from the videos and using words from the scripts in real life. …