Saturday, 14 April 2012

Is obsessing with Thomas the tank a sign of ASD?

Many of us who work with Children with ASD know that a familiar obsession with pre-school boys with the condition, is Thomas the Tank engine. One expert I know said she thought we could probably use it as part of an autism checklist, it's so popular for children with ASD to wear the jumpers and be clutching Thomas or Percy etc.

According to a new study, however, the  Reverend W. Awdry, the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, was on to something in 1943 when he developed the smiling steam engine. It turns out that putting a human face on a cartoon train, bus or tram can help children with autism understand emotions.

The head of the University of Cambridge's Autism Research Centre, Simon Baron-Cohen, conducted a study using a series of 15 animated stories called The Transporters. Each episode focused on a different emotion - from simple ones such as happy, sad and angry to more complex emotions such as sorry, ashamed, tired and joking. 

The findings, published in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders in November, showed children with autism spectrum conditions had improved emotion recognition after watching the 3D program for 15 minutes a day over a month. Professor Baron-Cohen said using mechanical vehicles also helped, as things such as trains and trams behaved in predictable ways. ''Children with autism and Asperger syndrome love order and predictability. So they shy away from people. To them, we're confusing and unpredictable,'' he said.


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