What’s the Deal with Autistic Kids and Thomas the Tank Engine?

I keep hearing about Thomas the Tank Engine and its appeal for children with autism, and have noticed that there are a lot of different opinions on why autistic children love Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

Personally, I’m a little scared of Thomas the Tank Engine with his eerie, frozen facial expressions. But, since I’m not a preschooler, I suppose that the creators of Thomas the Tank Engine did not build their marketing strategies around my desires. Anyway, here are some of the interesting things I’ve found about why autistic children love Thomas the Tank Engine:

  1. The most obvious, well-known (maybe even a little stereotypical?) reason why children with autism love Thomas the Tank—their obsession with trains.
  2. The lining up of things. Since children with autism like to line things up, this must be why they love Thomas the Tank Engine.
  3. The trains fall, crash and get smashed—apparently very fascinating to children with autism. The crash scenes in Thomas the Tank are especially appealing because the action is clear and easy to follow. They can easily re-enact the action scenes at home.
  4. Lack of emotional display. Autistic children relate well to the emotional displays of Thomas the Tank Engine characters. The characters don’t actively talk and their faces are always still. When they do show emotion, it is often exaggerated and set on their faces for a period of time.
  5. Concrete emotions. Their emotions are not confusing. The characters are either happy, angry, surprised, tired, scared, or embarrassed. There is nothing in between.
  6. Comprehensive role playing. The class wars that take place between the higher order passenger trains and the lower order freight trains appeal to children with autism because it helps them role play with empathy, triumph, and frustration.
  7. No chaos. The background and scenery are always still, which allows for less distraction and more focus on the main picture.

So, it seems to me that children love Thomas the Tank because the characters remind them of themselves, which makes perfect sense to me. Any parents have any firsthand experience with this?

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