Thursday, December 16, 2010

From Thomas to Anime

I have often wondered what draws those with an autism spectrum disorder(ASD) to certain interests.  I had the pleasure of reading perspectives of teenagers with asperger's that see similarities in two of the biggest interests which are Thomas the Train and Japanese Anime. This is not saying that if you have an autism spectrum disorder you are predisposed to like these interests but rather this is a common theme.  I thought it was fascinating to think about the similarities. 

Often, it is difficult for those with ASD to perceive the emotions of others.  Thomas has very exaggerated facial expressions to make it more obvious how the characters are feeling.  Thomas and the other characters have friendly faces, often with exaggerated expressions. In the videos, the expressions are set for some time and are often accompanied by simple narration explaining the emotion ("Thomas was sad."), allowing children to identify the feelings and expressions. - The specific survey by the NAS was conducted about the appeal of this lovable character:

In June and July 2001, The National Autistic Society conducted a survey of 81 parents of children with autism and Asperger syndrome to investigate their putative 'special relationship' with Thomas the Tank Engine. The survey confirmed our assumption from anecdotal evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders associate far more strongly with Thomas the Tank Engine than with other children's characters.
Thomas plays a vital role in the lives of some children with autism, acting as an initial point of entry into realms as vital as speech, emotion and imagination. For many other children on the autism spectrum, Thomas serves as a comforting, familiar and reassuring presence in a world that is frequently frightening and incomprehensible. - Resource:
The National Autistic Society, London, England. "Do children with autism spectrum disorders have a special relationship with Thomas the Tank Engine and, if so, why?" Research undertaken by Aidan Prior Communications. February, 2002.
Likewise, anime has more obvious features regarding emotions and extremely expressive eyes. 

One quite articulate individual on the 'Wrong Planet' forum stated, "The depictions of emotion are intense and easily understandable even by those of us who have trouble reading people."   Within the world of anime, many of the characters have similar characteristics as individuals with autism.  

Using these interests to work on social skills may be the key to making it more understandable to our kids.  Thinking about using those high interests to pull them into our confusing world of social subtleties and nuances.  We are in the process of reviewing such social skills resources that use these interest areas, so stay tuned!



  1. I havent thought of it this way before, interesting!! Noah LOVES thomas so that makes sense!!

  2. Thomas is a hit with so many kids! We wonder what other characters will be similar in coming years.